Dear Dr. Baskett: What is the problem with being obese?

Dear Reader: Right now, almost 70 percent of our population is overweight or obese. You may have heard of this statistic before, and be aware that obesity is associated with diabetes Type 2, heart disease and high blood pressure. What you may not know, however, is that obesity has far-reaching effects. It is associated with a diversity of concerns, including the following:

Migraine headaches: Researchers from Johns Hopkins University published a study in the journal Neurology demonstrating the link between obesity and migraine headaches. Of the 4,000 people they studied, those who were obese were 81 percent more likely to experience migraine headaches each month compared to people who were at a healthy weight.

Cancer: The National Cancer Institute associates 34,000 new cases of cancer in obese men and 50,000 in obese women each year. Obese people are at a higher risk for all cancers. Of greatest concern is that those who are obese are often diagnosed in later stages and are more likely to die from the disease.

Infertility: Obese women do have a higher rate of infertility than women who maintain a healthy weight. This is due to insulin resistance and other hormonal changes; in fact, one study of 300 morbidly obese women found that over 90 percent developed Polycystic Ovarian Disease over a three-year time period. Even a small amount of weight loss can increase a woman’s fertility.

Premature birth risk: For heavier women that do become pregnant, there is a higher risk of pre-term delivery. It is thought that too much fat tissue and the associated endocrine changes may inflame and weaken the uterine and cervical membranes.

Lack of sleep: Those who are obese often do not consistently enjoy a good night’s rest. This puts them at risk for diabetes, heart disease and even additional weight gain. Research has also shown a correlation between obesity and obstructive sleep apnea. When an individual lies down on his or her back, neck fat can actually press down on and close off the soft tissues of the airway.

Discrimination: A Yale study found that weight is the number one reason people are bullied, teased and discriminated against at any age. Interestingly, the main source of the teasing is often from loved ones. More than 40 percent of obese children report that they have been bullied or teased by a family member and 72 percent of obese women in the study said they were teased by a family member.

These are just a few examples of how obesity can negatively impact one’s life. The good news is that even a small weight loss — 5 to 10 percent — of one’s initial body weight can make a big difference in your overall health and well-being.

Dr. Kathleen T. Baskett is medical director of the St. Vincent Healthcare Weight Management Clinic.

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