Health Problems Associated With Adult Obesity

Topic Overview

Adults with obesity are more likely to have certain health problems than adults who are not obese. These problems include the following.

Heart disease and cardiovascular problems

People who are obese have an increased risk of:1

Diabetes

People who are obese are more likely to develop insulin resistance, which can lead to type 2 diabetes.1 One study has noted that men and women who have a body mass index (BMI) over 35 are approximately 20 times more likely to develop diabetes over a 10-year period than people with a normal weight (a BMI of 18.5 to 24.9).3

The risk of type 2 diabetes increases as BMI increases. People who have a large percentage of body fat in the abdominal area—greater than 40 in. (102 cm) in men and greater than 35 in. (89 cm) in women—are at increased risk for type 2 diabetes, even if their BMIs are within the normal range. Weight gain of more than 17.5 lb (7.9 kg) after age 21 in men or 22 lb (10 kg) after age 18 in women further increases the risk for type 2 diabetes.4

Cancer

People who are obese may be at greater risk for different types of cancer, including:1, 5

Digestive problems

People who are obese may have more digestive problems.6

  • Women who are obese have twice the risk of developing gallstones as women of normal weight, and women who are extremely obese (a BMI over 45) have 7 times the risk.
  • A few studies report that people who are obese and who develop pancreatitis have worse outcomes than people of normal weight.
  • Obesity is associated with liver problems such as an enlarged liver (hepatomegaly), a fatty liver (steatosis), or cirrhosis.
  • Symptoms of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) are more common in people who are obese than in people of normal weight.

Breathing problems

People who are obese may have difficulty breathing.

  • They are more likely to have sleep apnea. Although about 1% to 4% of all people have breathing problems while sleeping, about 24% of overweight men and 9% of overweight women do.7
  • Obesity is associated with a higher prevalence of asthma.1
  • People who are obese tend to take smaller or shallower breaths (pickwickian syndrome). These small, gasping breaths may not get as much oxygen into the blood as needed, leaving them always tired. Pickwickian syndrome can eventually lead to heart problems.

Arthritis

People who are obese have a greater risk of developing arthritis.

  • Extra weight puts more stress on the joints than normal, especially in the legs and lower back.
  • For every 2 lb (0.9 kg) increase in weight, the risk of developing arthritis increases 9% to 13%.1

Sex hormone problems

Obesity is associated with:

  • Problems with becoming pregnant (infertility).6
  • Irregular menstrual periods.6
  • Increased risk of death for mother and baby.1
  • Increased risk of birth defects, especially neural tube defects.1

Other problems

  • Kidney disease.8

References

Citations

  1. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (2001). The Surgeon General's Call to Action to Prevent and Decrease Overweight and Obesity. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Available online: http://www.surgeongeneral.gov/topics/obesity.
  2. Chow WH, et al. (2000). Obesity, hypertension, and the risk of kidney cancer in men. New England Journal of Medicine, 343(18): 1305–1311.
  3. Field AE, et al. (2001). Impact of overweight on the risk of developing common chronic diseases during a 10-year period. Archives of Internal Medicine, 161(13): 1581–1586.
  4. Capes S, Anand S (2001). What is type 2 diabetes? In HC Gerstein, RB Haynes, eds., Evidence-Based Diabetes Care, pp. 151–163. Hamilton, ON: BC Decker.
  5. Hampel H, et al. (2005). Meta-analysis: Obesity and the risk for gastroesophageal reflux disease and its complications. Annals of Internal Medicine, 143(3): 199–211.
  6. American Gastroenterological Association (2002). AGA technical review on obesity. Gastroenterology, 123(3): 882–932. [Erratum in Gastroenterology, 123(5): 1752.
  7. Allison DB, Saunders SE (2000). Obesity in North America: An overview. Medical Clinics of North America, 84(2): 305–332.
  8. Ejerblad E, et al. (2006). Obesity and risk for chronic renal failure. Journal of the American Society of Nephrology, 17(6): 1695–1702.

Credits

Author Jeannette Curtis
Editor Kathleen M. Ariss, MS
Associate Editor Pat Truman, MATC
Primary Medical Reviewer Caroline S. Rhoads, MD - Internal Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer Matthew I. Kim, MD - Endocrinology & Metabolism
Last Updated April 16, 2009

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