Being overweight comes with lots of challenges, both social and psychological, that can make life difficult, but it’s the damage to your health you really need to be worried about. Carrying excess fat has severe implications for your long-term health and can eventually lead to lower quality of life, depression, and several life-threatening conditions.

Obesity and pain are both considered to be critical health concerns that can make daily life almost unbearable. Recent studies have also discovered a strong correlation between pain and obesity. Complaints of discomfort were found to be common among the obese and obesity is a frequent factor in people suffering from chronic pain.

Being chronically overweight can lead to:

  • Back Pain and Obesity
  • Cancer
  • Diabetes and kidney disease
  • Heart Disease
  • Leg Lymphedema
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Depression

Let’s look at each one of these ways that obesity can hurt you and show you that losing weight isn’t just a way to improve your social life or improve your self-image; it can also be a matter of life or death.

The Difference between Being Fat and Being Obese

Overweight or being obese are both terms for carrying more body fat than what is medically considered to be healthy. Both terms are used to identify individuals who are at a higher risk for health problems from being too heavy. As a rule, the term obese typically refers to someone with a much higher amount of body fat than a person who is only overweight.

Back Pain and Obesity

You can try to dismiss the cause of some increased back pain to the aging process, and it’s true that as we age, our body tissues degrade and this causes (painful) changes to the vertebrae and discs that compose our spines. However, if you’re obese or overweight, the chances are that you already have, or will eventually develop chronic back pain.

Becoming overweight can contribute significantly to the symptoms associated with osteoarthritis, osteoporosis, rheumatoid arthritis, spinal stenosis, spondylolisthesis, and degenerative disc disease.

Your spine has to carry the body’s weight and evenly distribute the stress encountered during both activity and rest. When you’re carrying excess weight, the spine is forced to support a heavier burden than it was designed for. This can lead to degenerative conditions and injuries that result in painful conditions like sciatica. The part of the spine that’s most vulnerable to the effect of obesity is your lumbar spine (lower back), and damage in this area can be the most debilitating because it also affects how well your legs function.

Obesity and Cancer

According to a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (the CDC), cancers related to obesity currently account for approximately 40% of all cancers diagnosed in the U.S. Over a half-million Americans were diagnosed with a cancer resulting from excess body weight in 2014.

After reviewing more than one-thousand studies, the International Agency for Research on Cancer has identified thirteen cancers related to being overweight:

  1. Esophageal
  2. Colorectal
  3. Endometrial
  4. Gallbladder
  5. Stomach
  6. Kidney
  7. Liver
  8. Ovarian
  9. Pancreatic
  10. Thyroid
  11. Postmenopausal breast cancers
  12. Meningioma
  13. Multiple myeloma

Kidney Disease

We can all agree that carrying around excess body fat isn’t good for our health. But did you realize that dropping weight will help prevent kidney disease? Losing weight may also slow the progression of kidney disease in people already diagnosed with the chronic form of this disease. Being overweight or obese is a medically recognized risk factor for the development of kidney problems.

Diabetes

Being overweight or obese will increase the odds of developing the common kind of diabetes called type 2. This disease means that although the body is making enough insulin, the cells in your body have become resistant to the healthy, sugar-metabolizing stimulus from insulin.

But, why does it happen?

Researchers think that being fat stresses the insides of our cells and that overeating stresses the network of membranes inside the cells. When the cells have more nutrients to process than they can handle, an alarm signal is sent out telling the body to slow down the insulin receptors on each cell surface. This can cause the insulin resistance and high blood levels of the sugar glucose – a clear symptom of diabetes.

Being Overweight and Heart Disease

Carrying a lot of excess weight from body fat means that you’re much more likely to develop heart disease. Even if there are no other risk factors, such as smoking, this is true. Being overweight or obese will hurt your heart in these ways:

  • Undue strain on the heart
  • Increased blood cholesterol and triglyceride levels and reduced high-density lipoproteins (good cholesterol)
  • An increased risk of getting type 2 diabetes
  • Excess weight can cause hypertension (high blood pressure)

And if you’re carrying your excess fat in the abdomen (a waistline above 35 inches for women or above 40 inches for men), then you’re at an even higher risk for heart disease. Losing weight, particularly abdominal fat, is an excellent first step toward reducing your blood pressure and controlling blood cholesterol levels.

Leg Lymphedema

New research concludes that obesity is a significant risk factor for another painful condition; leg lymphedema. Leg lymphedema just means that there is an accumulation of lymphatic fluid in the leg.

This happens when the lymphatic system is obstructed by something (like a clot) that blocks one of the lymph vessels. This makes lymphatic fluid collect in your skin, and you can develop a painful swelling. Leg lymphedema can affect your life both psychologically and a physically because it not only makes it painful to get around and leave the house but also makes it embarrassing and awkward to interact socially. The researchers concluded that obesity is a risk factor for lymphedema when someone’s body mass index (BMI) is more than 60.

Fibromyalgia

While only 2% of the general population suffers from Fibromyalgia – almost 45% of obese people who are tested end up diagnosed with this painful disease. Typically fibromyalgia causes obesity by making exercise and physical exertion extremely painful. But some studies have also concluded that just being obese is a risk factor for developing this, at times, crippling condition.

But what happens if you lose the weight?

Researchers discovered that when obese participants with fibromyalgia lost weight, they saw improvements in; depression levels, sleep quality, reduced pain sensitivity, and an improved quality of life.

Depression

In this case, it’s a question of which came first; the depression that made you gain weight or you gained weight and became depressed as a result. But, doctors are discovering that there is a direct correlation between inflammation and depression – and obesity can cause inflammation to occur throughout the body.

The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in Canada published a study that concludes individuals who are depressed had a 30% higher level of inflammation in the brain than people who aren’t. This is one of the first studies to show conclusively that, even absent any other conditions, inflammation is almost always present in individuals dealing with depression.

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George Citroner

GW Citroner is a Hudson Valley, NY based writer whose work has appeared in over 20 publications and on an incredible range of Health & Wellness topics.

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