Obesity rates in the United States are alarming. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2018), over a third of US adults are considered obese. This is also an issue worldwide, but more than 50% of the world's obese population come from a mere ten countries, with the U.S. topping the list (Murray & Ng, n.d., "Key Findings," para. 1). Such a large portion of the population with obesity in the U.S. is not necessarily surprising when one considers the large amounts of sugars and fats in many people's diets and the oversized portions that are so common in restaurants. However, this serious problem should not be ignored merely because it is common. Obesity negatively impacts an individual's quality of life in significant ways psychologically, socially, and physically. The psychological and social effects are not as visible, and thus not understood as well, though certainly still present. The physical effects have been extensively researched because they are easier to quantify and diagnose. Some of the most obvious physical health effects of obesity include high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, and bone diseases.
Obesity may lead to high blood pressure. In the US, a considerable number of people are affected by hypertension as a consequence of being obese. According to the Framingham Heart Study, a 44-year longitudinal study, excess body weight "…accounted for approximately 26 percent of cases of hypertension in men and 28 percent in women..." (Delaney, n.d., "The Incidence of Hypertension and Obesity," para. 1). Thus, it seems very common to encounter high blood pressure when obesity is present. This high blood pressure is caused in part by extra fats that line the blood vessels, restricting blood flow and increasing the pressure in the vessels. Fatty tissue not only affects the heart by constricting blood vessels; it also requires the heart to pump more blood. "By some estimates, each pound of fat requires approximately a mile of extra blood vessels to supply nutrients and oxygen" (Delaney, n.d., "Knowing Your Risk for Hypertension," para. 8). These extra blood vessels increase blood pressure because the heart has to pump harder to get blood through all of the extra blood vessels created. Therefore, excess body weight may be responsible for many cases of hypertension in the U.S.
Type 2 diabetes is another health concern that may be caused by obesity. Insulin is a hormone that regulates blood sugar levels in the body, and being overweight reduces the effectiveness of insulin, in some cases, even leading to insulin resistance ("Effects of Obesity," n.d., "Health Effects of Obesity," para. 3). This inability to regulate appropriate blood sugar levels can then lead to the development of type 2 diabetes, requiring insulin injections to supplement the body's natural insulin reserves. That is not to say that being overweight is a guaranteed path leading to diabetes, but "…roughly 30 percent of overweight people have the disease, and 85 percent of diabetics are overweight" (Powell, 2012, para. 8). The opposite is also true, in that losing weight even in small increments, combined with increased physical activity, can reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes by 40% to 60% ("Your Weight and Diabetes," 2015, "What Can You Do if You Already have Diabetes?," para. 1). Based on this evidence, it is safe to say that while obesity doesn't automatically lead to diabetes, it is strongly linked to the development of that disease.
Finally, obesity can contribute to a variety of bone and joint diseases. Among all the physical health concerns that can stem from obesity, bone and joint diseases are fairly straightforward, mechanical consequences. The knees, hips, and other joints are all affected by being overweight due to the increased impact on the joints that comes from bearing extra weight ("Effects of Obesity," n.d., "Health Effects of Obesity," para. 4). Individuals may develop joint or bone diseases when they are overweight, and those who already have these diseases may find the symptoms worsen with additional weight gain. Osteoarthritis is a degenerative joint disorder that affects "one in 5 Americans…but according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), that number jumps to more than 1 in 3 among obese people" (Kane, n.d., para. 2). Osteoarthritis is one of the most prevalent joint diseases associated with obesity. Losing weight will reduce the risk of developing joint and bone diseases.
In conclusion, obesity brings with it an increased risk for a variety of health problems. Obesity makes the heart work harder, decreases the effectiveness of the body's insulin, and adds extra strain to the bones and joints. This extra wear on the body is avoidable, but only as people are vigilant to fight against the trends that created the problem in the first place. It is possible to reverse the frighteningly high rates of obesity in the U.S. and improve the quality of life for many individuals. Understanding the way that obesity affects the body is one of the first steps to changing the fate of the nation.
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