Increasingly, carrying around excess weight has become the new norm. Today, two-thirds of Americans are overweight. And a brand-new study from the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health projects that half of American adults will be obese by 2030. But as Vin Diesel movies prove, just because it’s popular doesn’t mean it’s good for you.
Extra weight is associated with serious health problems literally from head to toe—from heart disease and cancer to liver, kidney, stomach and joint issues—that can reduce your happiness and shorten your life. Here’s how extra pounds are ruining your health.
Being overweight is associated with a higher blood cholesterol level and high blood sugar—two of the major risk factors for heart attack and stroke.
The Remedy Rx: According to the National Institutes of Health, losing just 5 to 10 percent of your weight may lower your chances of developing heart disease. It can improve your blood pressure, cholesterol level and blood flow.
Excess weight also makes your heart work harder to pump blood throughout the body. That can lead to hypertension, a.k.a. high blood pressure—a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease.
The Remedy Rx: Have your blood pressure checked regularly. A normal reading is 120/80. If your blood pressure is elevated, follow your doctor’s recommendations about diet and lifestyle changes (and comply with any medication) to get the numbers back in a healthy range.
According to the American Cancer Society, being overweight increases the risk of several cancers, including breast, colorectal, uterine, gallbladder and kidney. About 28,000 cases of cancer diagnosed each year are due to obesity. Researchers aren’t sure why that is. It could be caused by the inflammation, altered cell metabolism, unhealthy eating habits and sedentary lifestyle connected to weight gain—or a mix of all four.
The Remedy Rx: Studies are inconclusive about whether weight loss reduces the risk of cancer, so the best course is to maintain a healthy weight and avoid weight gain.
Being overweight or obese increases your blood pressure, which is the #1 cause of strokes. Heart disease, high blood sugar and high cholesterol—all of which tend to accompany extra pounds—raises your chance of having a stroke as well.
The Remedy Rx: Lose weight with a healthy diet and consistent exercise to keep all your numbers in the right place.
Being overweight is the #1 risk factor for sleep apnea, the NIH says. Extra pounds often come with excess fat and inflammation around the neck, which can restrict your airway, leading to that obstructive condition: During the night, you snore and may actually stop breathing for up to a minute. That raises your risk of several serious health problems, including heart disease.
The Remedy Rx: Stay at a healthy weight so you can breathe easy. If you chronically snore—regardless of your weight—ask your doctor if you should have further testing for sleep apnea.
According to the NIH, more than 87% of adults with diabetes are overweight or obese. Fat can make your body more resistant to insulin, which carries sugar from the blood to your cells for energy. When your body is resistant to insulin, sugar remains in the blood, resulting in Type 2 diabetes. That high blood sugar damages artery walls and can lead to heart attack, stroke, vision problems and more.
The Remedy Rx: If you’re carrying extra pounds, be sure to be tested for diabetes. If you’re diagnosed, follow your doctor’s suggestions about diet and lifestyle changes and any medications to keep diabetes under control.
Extra pounds tax the bones and joints, potentially leading to conditions such as osteoarthritis. “Excess weight becomes an engineering problem,” says David Gibson, MD, a Yale Medicine orthopedic surgeon. “Your bones are designed for your ideal body weight. Every extra pound increases the amount of force on your joints. For example, for every pound of weight that you put on your torso, you put 4 to 8 pounds of pressure across your knee joints. This extra load ultimately will overwhelm your joints, causing early failure.”
The Remedy Rx: Lose weight to reduce everyday aches and pains and the risk of osteoarthritis.
When you’re overweight, fat can build up in the liver, resulting in fatty liver disease, a.k.a. nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH). Fatty liver disease can lead to severe liver damage, including cirrhosis or even liver failure. And according to Harvard Medical School, belly fat releases damaging substances directly into the liver, which can raise the level of fats in your blood.
The Remedy Rx: Have a regular physical exam. Your doctor can test for fatty liver disease—which often produces few or no symptoms—with a simple blood test. Losing body fat means you’ll reduce the fat in your liver as well.
Being overweight stresses your kidneys, making their job of detoxifying the body harder. And it increases your risk of diabetes and high blood pressure, which are the two most common causes of chronic kidney disease (CKD). When the kidneys can’t filter the blood properly, wastes build up in the body. That can lead to kidney failure and the need for dialysis.
The Remedy Rx: CKD is progressive—it can be slowed but is generally not reversible. To keep your kidneys healthy, keep your weight in a healthy range.
Belly fat, a.k.a visceral fat, is the deep-placed fat that wraps around your organs. It releases substances that slow down your metabolism. So the more weight you gain, the harder it can be to lose, and the more pounds you can pack on.
The Remedy Rx: Get to and stay at a healthy weight via diet and exercise, so it’s not harder to do in the future. Harvard Medical School recommends at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise each day (and ideally 60) as a starting point for weight loss, supplemented with strength training that will build fat-burning lean muscle.
Extra pounds don’t just give you belly fat—they can irritate your stomach as well. According to the Obesity Action Coalition, being overweight is associated with an increase in stomach problems like gastritis, heartburn, bloating, vomiting and diarrhea, and research increasingly links it to gastric ulcers as well. Being overweight increases inflammation in the gut, weakens healthy gut bacteria and enables “leaky gut,” in which toxins and pathogens invade the digestive system.
The Remedy Rx: Lose weight to improve your gut health. If you’re experiencing digestive problems, see your doctor about what remedies may help in the meantime.
Here’s the bottom line: Extra pounds are associated with a shorter life span. According to the 24-year Framingham Heart Study by Boston University, obesity was associated with a 27 percent higher risk of death. And in 2018, researchers from the University of Pennsylvania and the Boston University School of Public Health found that obesity has shaved almost a year off life expectancy in the United States.
The Remedy Rx: Don’t accept extra pounds as normal. For optimum health and a happy life, maintain a healthy weight. And to live your happiest and healthiest life, don’t miss these 70 Things You Should Never Do For Your Health.