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Overweight and obesity may increase the risk of many health problems, including diabetes, heart disease, and certain cancers. If you are pregnant, excess weight may lead to short- and long-term health problems for you and your child.

This fact sheet tells you more about the links between excess weight and many health conditions. It also explains how reaching and maintaining a normal weight may help you and your loved ones stay healthier as you grow older.

What kinds of health problems are linked to overweight and obesity?

Excess weight may increase the risk for many health problems, including

  • Type 2 diabetes
  • High blood pressure
  • Heart disease and strokes
  • Certain types of cancer
  • Sleep apnea
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Fatty liver disease
  • Kidney disease
  • Pregnancy problems, such as high blood sugar during pregnancy, high blood pressure, and increased risk for cesarean delivery (C-section)

How can I tell if I weigh too much?

Gaining a few pounds during the year may not seem like a big deal. But these pounds can add up over time. How can you tell if your weight could increase your chances of developing health problems? Knowing two numbers may help you understand your risk: your body mass index (BMI) score  and your waist size in inches.

Body Mass Index

The BMI is one way to tell whether you are at a normal weight, are overweight, or have obesity. It measures your weight in relation to your height and provides a score to help place you in a category:

  • Normal weight: BMI of 18.5 to 24.9
  • Overweight: BMI of 25 to 29.9
  • Obesity: BMI of 30 or higher

Waist Size

Another important number to know is your waist size in inches. Having too much fat around your waist may increase health risks even more than having fat in other parts of your body. Women with a waist size of more than 35 inches and men with a waist size of more than 40 inches may have higher chances of developing diseases related to obesity.

Know your health numbers

Below are some numbers to aim for.

MeasureTarget
Target BMI18.5-24.9
Waist SizeMen: less than 40 in.
Women: less than 35 in.
Blood Pressure120/80 mm Hg or less
LDL (bad cholesterol)Less than 100 mg/dl
HDL (good cholesterol)Men: more than 40 mg/dl
Women: more than 50 mg/dl
TriglyceridesLess than 150 mg/dl
Blood sugar (fasting)Less than 100 mg/dl

Type 2 Diabetes

What is type 2 diabetes?

Type 2 diabetes is a disease in which blood sugar levels are above normal. High blood sugar is a major cause of heart disease, kidney disease, stroke, amputation, and blindness. In 2009, diabetes was the seventh leading cause of death in the United States.3

Type 2 diabetes is the most common type of diabetes. Family history and genes play a large role in type 2 diabetes. Other risk factors include a low activity level, poor diet, and excess body weight around the waist. In the United States, type 2 diabetes is more common among blacks, Latinos, and American Indians than among whites.4

How is type 2 diabetes linked to overweight?

More than 87% of adults with diabetes are overweight or obese.4 It isn’t clear why people who are overweight are more likely to develop this disease. It may be that being overweight causes cells to change, making them resistant to the hormone insulin. Insulin carries sugar from blood to the cells, where it is used for energy. When a person is insulin resistant, blood sugar cannot be taken up by the cells, resulting in high blood sugar. In addition, the cells that produce insulin must work extra hard to try to keep blood sugar normal. This may cause these cells to gradually fail.

High Blood Pressure

What is high blood pressure?

Every time your heart beats, it pumps blood through your arteries to the rest of your body. Blood pressure is how hard your blood pushes against the walls of your arteries. High blood pressure (hypertension) usually has no symptoms, but it may cause serious problems, such as heart disease, stroke, and kidney failure.

A blood pressure of 120/80 mm Hg (often referred to as “120 over 80”) is considered normal. If the top number (systolic blood pressure) is consistently 140 or higher or the bottom number (diastolic blood pressure) is 90 or higher, you are considered to have high blood pressure.

How is high blood pressure linked to overweight?

High blood pressure is linked to overweight and obesity in several ways. Having a large body size may increase blood pressure because your heart needs to pump harder to supply blood to all your cells. Excess fat may also damage your kidneys, which help regulate blood pressure.

How can weight loss help?

Weight loss that will get you close to the normal BMI range may greatly lower high blood pressure. Other helpful changes are to quit smoking, reduce salt, and get regular physical activity. However, if lifestyle changes aren’t enough, your doctor may prescribe drugs to lower your blood pressure.

Heart Disease

What is heart disease?

Heart disease is a term used to describe several problems that may affect your heart. The most common type of problem happens when a blood vessel that carries blood to the heart becomes hard and narrow. This may keep the heart from getting all the blood it needs. Other problems may affect how well the heart pumps. If you have heart disease, you may suffer from a heart attack, heart failure, sudden cardiac death, angina (chest pain), or abnormal heart rhythm. Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States.3

How is heart disease linked to overweight?

People who are overweight or obese often have health problems that may increase the risk for heart disease. These health problems include high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and high blood sugar. In addition, excess weight may cause changes to your heart that make it work harder to send blood to all the cells in your body.

Stroke

What is a stroke?

A stroke happens when the flow of blood to a part of your brain stops, causing brain cells to die. The most common type of stroke, called ischemic stroke, occurs when a blood clot blocks an artery that carries blood to the brain. Another type of stroke, called hemorrhagic stroke, happens when a blood vessel in the brain bursts.

How are strokes linked to overweight?

Overweight and obesity are known to increase blood pressure. High blood pressure is the leading cause of strokes. Excess weight also increases your chances of developing other problems linked to strokes, including high cholesterol, high blood sugar, and heart disease.

Cancer

What is cancer?

Cancer occurs when cells in one part of the body, such as the colon, grow abnormally or out of control. The cancerous cells sometimes spread to other parts of the body, such as the liver. Cancer is the second leading cause of death in the United States.3

How is cancer linked to overweight?

Gaining weight as an adult increases the risk for several cancers, even if the weight gain doesn’t result in overweight or obesity. It isn’t known exactly how being overweight increases cancer risk. Fat cells may release hormones that affect cell growth, leading to cancer. Also, eating or physical activity habits that may lead to being overweight may also contribute to cancer risk.

What kinds of cancers are linked to overweight and obesity?

Being overweight increases the risk of developing certain cancers, including the following5:

  • breast, after menopause
  • colon and rectum
  • endometrium (lining of the uterus)
  • gallbladder
  • kidney

Sleep Apnea

What is sleep apnea?

Sleep apnea is a condition in which a person has one or more pauses in breathing during sleep. A person who has sleep apnea may suffer from daytime sleepiness, difficulty focusing, and even heart failure.

How is sleep apnea linked to overweight?

Obesity is the most important risk factor for sleep apnea. A person who is overweight may have more fat stored around his or her neck. This may make the airway smaller. A smaller airway can make breathing difficult or loud (because of snoring), or breathing may stop altogether for short periods of time. In addition, fat stored in the neck and throughout the body may produce substances that cause inflammation. Inflammation in the neck is a risk factor for sleep apnea.

Osteoarthritis

Fatty Liver Disease

Kidney Disease

Pregnancy Problems

Pre-pregnancy WeightAmount to Gain
Underweight
(BMI < 18.5)
28-40 lbs.
Normal Weight
(BMI 18.5 – 24.9)
25-35 lbs.
Overweight
(BMI 25 – 29.9)
15-25 lbs.
Obesity
(BMI – 30+)
11-20 lbs.

How can I lower my risk of having health problems related to overweight and obesity?

If you are considered to be overweight, losing as little as 5 percent of your body weight may lower your risk for several diseases, including heart disease and type 2 diabetes. If you weigh 200 pounds, this means losing 10 pounds. Slow and steady weight loss of 1/2 to 2 pounds per week, and not more than 3 pounds per week, is the safest way to lose weight.

Federal guidelines on physical activity  recommend that you get at least 150 minutes a week of moderate aerobic activity (like biking or brisk walking). To lose weight, or to maintain weight loss, you may need to be active for up to 300 minutes per week. You also need to do activities to strengthen muscles (like push-ups or sit-ups) at least twice a week.

Federal dietary guidelines  and the my plate  website recommend many tips for healthy eating that may also help you control your weight. Here are a few examples:

  • Make half of your plate fruits and vegetables.
  • Replace unrefined grains (white bread, pasta, white rice) with whole-grain options (whole wheat bread, brown rice, oatmeal).
  • Enjoy lean sources of protein, such as lean meats, seafood, beans and peas, soy, nuts, and seeds.

For some people who have obesity and related health problems, bariatric (weight-loss) surgerymay be an option. Bariatric surgery has been found to be effective in promoting weight loss and reducing the risk for many health problems.


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