If you are overweight, you are more likely to develop health problems, such as heart disease, stroke, diabetes, certain types of cancer, gout
(joint pain caused by excess uric acid), and gallbladder disease. Being
overweight can also cause problems such as sleep apnea (interrupted
breathing during sleep) and osteoarthritis (wearing away of the joints).
The more overweight you are, the more likely you are to have health
problems. Weight loss can help improve the harmful effects of being
overweight. However, many overweight people have difficulty reaching
their healthy body weight. Studies show that you can improve your health
by losing as little as 10 to 20 pounds.
What Are the Risks to Your Health of Being Overweight?
Heart Disease and Stroke
Heart disease and stroke are the leading causes of death and disability
for both men and women in the United States. Overweight people are more
likely to have high blood pressure, a major risk factor for heart
disease and stroke, than people who are not overweight. Very high blood
levels of cholesterol and triglycerides (blood fats) can also lead to
heart disease and often are linked to being overweight. Being overweight
also contributes to angina (chest pain caused by decreased oxygen to the
heart) and sudden death from heart disease or stroke without any signs
The good news is that losing a small amount of weight can reduce your
chances of developing heart disease or a stroke. Reducing your weight by
10 percent can decrease your chance of developing heart disease by
improving how your heart works, blood pressure, and levels of blood
cholesterol and triglycerides.
Noninsulin-dependent diabetes mellitus (type 2 diabetes) is the most
common type of diabetes in the United States. Type 2 diabetes reduces
your body's ability to control your blood sugar. It is a major cause of
early death, heart disease, kidney disease, stroke, and blindness.
Overweight people are twice as likely to develop type 2 diabetes as
people who are not overweight. You can reduce your risk of developing
this type of diabetes by losing weight and by increasing your physical
If you have type 2 diabetes, losing weight and becoming more physically
active can help control your blood sugar levels. If you use medicine to
control your blood sugar, weight loss and physical activity may make it
possible for your doctor to decrease the amount of medication you need.
Several types of cancer are associated with being overweight. In women,
these include cancer of the uterus, gallbladder, cervix, ovary, breast,
and colon. Overweight men are at greater risk for developing cancer of
the colon, rectum, and prostate. For some types of cancer, such as colon
or breast, it is not clear whether the increased risk is due to the
extra weight or to a high-fat and high-calorie diet.
Sleep apnea is a serious condition that is closely associated with being
overweight. Sleep apnea can cause a person to stop breathing for short
periods during sleep and to snore heavily. Sleep apnea may cause daytime
sleepiness and even heart failure. The risk for sleep apnea increases
with higher body weights. Weight loss usually improves sleep apnea.
Osteoarthritis is a common joint disorder that most often affects the
joints in your knees, hips, and lower back. Extra weight appears to
increase the risk of osteoarthritis by placing extra pressure on these
joints and wearing away the cartilage (tissue that cushions the joints)
that normally protects them. Weight loss can decrease stress on the
knees, hips, and lower back and may improve the symptoms of
Gout is a joint disease caused by high levels of uric acid in the blood.
Uric acid sometimes forms into solid stone or crystal masses that become
deposited in the joints. Gout is more common in overweight people and
the risk of developing the disorder increases with higher body weights.
Note: Over the short term, some diets may lead to an attack of gout in
people who have high levels of uric acid or who have had gout before. If
you have a history of gout, check with your doctor or other health
professional before trying to lose weight.
Gallbladder disease and gallstones are more common if you are
overweight. Your risk of disease increases as your weight increases. It
is not clear how being overweight may cause gallbladder disease.
Weight loss itself, particularly rapid weight loss or loss of a large
amount of weight, can actually increase your chances of developing
gallstones. Modest, slow weight loss of about 1 pound a week is less
likely to cause gallstones.
How You Can Lower Your Health Risks