Dangers of being overweight

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Nigerians often view excess weight in people as evidence of good living or life but such people face higher risks of many diseases including cancer, writes Femi Ojo

A man showing his excess belly fat
A man showing his excess belly fat

Human beings are free moral agents and therefore have the liberty to make choices. These include eating excessively and indulging in practices that could make them unhealthy by piling on excess weight.

Why does a person become overweight or obese?
It is because he consumes more calories than he expends. This could be out of greed, gluttony, eating disorder, or physiological disease. Some nutritionists argue that today’s consumers eat more and they do so because of food industry practices. Fast-food firms especially make their products irresistible by spiking them with calorie-dense ingredients and by surreptitiously increasing portion sizes. Consumers are implicitly regarded as unable to resist the temptation of super-sized portions.

I know some people see having a gross weight and intimidating physique as a sign of affluence, but it is actually the glaring sign that they are unhealthy. It is estimated that the average person gains at least one pound of fat and loses a one-half pound of muscle each year beginning at age 20 unless he or she makes a lifestyle change.

If you’re carrying many extra pounds, you face a higher-than-average risk of a whopping 50 different health problems. These health conditions include the leading causes of death such as heart disease, hypertension, stroke, diabetes, and certain cancers especially of the breast and endometrium (uterus). Other health risks include gall bladder disease, osteoarthritis, sleep apnoea and respiratory problems as well as less common ailments such as gout and gallstones. Perhaps even more compelling is the strong link between excess weight and depression, because this common mood disorder can have a profound negative impact on your daily life.

What then is excess weight?
Quite plainly, it is a non-proportional increase in weight—out of proportion with the expected balance between your height and weight. There could be various factors resulting in this phenomenon. Excess body weight of 30% is associated with an increase of 25% to 42% in mortality, and mortality increases with increasing body weight. Assessment of weight and health risk involves using three key measures: Body mass index (BMI), waist circumference, and risk factors for diseases and conditions associated with obesity.

The body mass index is an important index used to measure excess body weight. Excess weight and obesity refer to the ratio of body fat to lean body mass. The body mass index, BMI = weight (kgs)/height (meters) squared. You are deemed overweight if your BMI is 25 or greater but less than 30 and you are obese with a BMI of 30 or more.

BMI Table
Underweight: Below 18.5
Normal: 18.5–24.9
Overweight: 25.0–29.9
Obesity: 30.0 and above

An overweight child

An overweight person is more predisposed to the following risks factors:
Along with being overweight or obese, the following conditions will put you at greater risk for heart disease and other conditions
High blood pressure (hypertension)
High LDL cholesterol (“bad” cholesterol)
Low HDL cholesterol (“good” cholesterol)
High triglycerides
High blood glucose (sugar)
Family history of premature heart disease
Physical inactivity
Cigarette smoking

Obesity increases the risk of diabetes 20 times and substantially boosts the risk of developing high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, and gall stones. Among people who are overweight or obese, there is a direct relationship between BMI and risk: the higher the BMI, the higher the likelihood of disease.

Links between certain conditions and being overweight:

Weight, heart disease, and stroke
Some of the most common problems seen in people who carry excess weight, such as high blood pressure and unhealthy levels of cholesterol and other fats in the blood, tend to occur together. Both can lead to concurrent health problems—namely, heart disease and stroke. High blood pressure is about six times more common in people who are obese than in those who are not obese.
Being overweight could boost the risk of heart disease by 32%; obesity increases the risk by 81%. Although the adverse effects of overweight on blood pressure and cholesterol levels could account for 45% of the increased heart disease risk, even modest amounts of excess weight can increase the odds of heart disease independent of those well-known risks. Compared with people of normal weight, overweight people face a 22% higher risk of stroke. For those who are obese, the risk rises to 64%.

Super-sized beef burger and potato chips, nice looking but how healthy
Super-sized beef burger and potato chips, nice looking but how healthy

Weight and diabetes
Overweight and obesity are so closely linked to diabetes; experts have coined the term “diabesity” to describe the phenomenon. About 90% of people with Type 2 diabetes (the most common form of the disease) are overweight or obese. A high blood sugar level is an indication that there is diabetes present in the system, and it is one of the features of metabolic syndrome. If untreated or poorly controlled, diabetes can lead to a number of grave health problems, including kidney failure, blindness, and foot or leg amputation.

There are some screaming signs of diabetes, called Metabolic Syndrome. It is most common with abdominal obesity. Some of these include:
• Big waist – A waist circumference of more than 35 inches in women or 40 inches in men.
• High triglycerides – A fasting blood triglyceride level of 150 milligrams/deciliter (mg/dL) or higher.
• Low HDL – An HDL (“good”) cholesterol of less than 40 mg/dL in men or less than 50 mg/dL in women.
• High blood pressure – A systolic blood pressure (the top number of a reading) of 130 mm Hg or higher, or diastolic (the lower number) of 85 mm Hg or higher.
High blood sugar – A fasting blood sugar level of 100 mg/dL or higher.

Weight and cancer
Some experts believe that obesity ranks as the second leading cause of cancer death, after cigarette smoking. The study showed a link between excess body weight and many different cancers. Some of the findings are:
Among people aged 50 and older, overweight and obesity may account for 14% of all cancer deaths in men and 20% of all cancer deaths in women.
In both men and women, higher BMIs were associated with a higher risk of dying from cancer of the esophagus, colon, and rectum, liver, gall bladder, pancreas, or kidney.
In men, excess weight also increased the risk of dying from stomach or prostate cancer.
In women, deaths from cancer of the breast, uterus, cervix, or ovary were elevated in women with higher BMIs.

The reason may lie in the fact that people who are very overweight are less likely to have cancer screening tests such as pap smears and mammograms.
A recent study of the Obesity journal showed that the larger the woman, the more likely she was to delay getting a pelvic exam, largely because of negative experiences with medical staff. In men, screening tests such as prostate exams may be physically difficult if people are very overweight, particularly if they tend to store fat in their hips, buttocks, or thighs.

Weight and lifespan
Being overweight or obese can make just getting around a challenge. Compared with people at a healthy weight, those carrying extra pounds have a harder time walking a quarter-mile, lifting 10 pounds, and rising from an armless chair. The burden of these problems appears to be greater than in years past, probably because people are now obese for a greater portion of their lives, experts speculate. And because excess weight plays a role in so many common and deadly diseases, overweight and obesity can cut years off your life.

Regular exercise can keep you healthy

Remedy
Lose weight, feel better. Losing excess weight can make you feel better both physically and emotionally and can help you live a longer, healthier life. Especially encouraging is the fact that you don’t have to lose a tremendous amount of weight to become healthier. Even a modest weight loss of 5% to 10% of your starting weight can lead to significant health benefits.
People with high blood pressure who lost a modest 10 pounds over six months reduced their systolic blood pressure by 2.8 mm Hg and their diastolic blood pressure by 2.5 mm Hg. These reductions in blood pressure were equivalent to the reductions brought about by treatment with some blood pressure medications.
Weight loss is so effective that many people with high blood pressure can stop taking blood pressure medicine after they lose weight, for as long as they are able to keep it off. In a study of people who were at risk for Type 2 diabetes, those who lost just 7% of their weight and exercised about 30 minutes a day cut their risk of diabetes by nearly 60%.

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