What are the health risks linked with obesity?
October 10, 2023
As we’ve explored in our post about how obesity is linked with health inequalities, obesity can have a number of causes, but also a number of health impacts.
It’s thought to be such a serious health concern, because of the many other health conditions it can increase your risk of, such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease, some types of cancer, stroke, respiratory, musculoskeletal and liver diseases, and mental health troubles. In the UK, it is estimated that around 1 in every 4 adults and around 1 in every 5 children aged 10 to 11 are living with obesity. There’s also a significant impact on the NHS, costing an estimated £6 billion per year and expecting to rise to £9.7 billion by 2050. According to an article from gov.uk, if people living with obesity lost 2.5kg, this could mean a huge £105 million saving for the NHS over the next 5 years.
Causes of Obesity
Obesity is a complex issue with many causes. In its simplest form, weight gain is the imbalance between the energy consumed and the energy used from physical activity and metabolism. When you take in more energy than you use, the excess is stored as fat in the body. However, from our research and work within the industry and community, obesity can also be influenced by genetic factors, hormonal factors, environmental factors, psychological factors, and some underlying health conditions or medications.
Let’s look at some of the factors that contribute to obesity in the UK:
- The availability and affordability of foods and drinks that are high in fat, sugar and calories
- The lack of access and opportunity to more nutritious food options
- A lack of physical activity and sedentary lifestyles due to technology, transport and work patterns
- The lack of awareness and education about healthier eating and physical activity
- The social and cultural norms and pressures that affect food choices and behaviours
- Deprivation and inequality that means people have fewer resources and opportunities for healthier lifestyles
What do these health risks mean?
Physical health risks:
- Type 2 diabetes: Obesity can make your body resistant to insulin, a hormone that regulates blood sugar. This can lead to high blood sugar levels and increase your risk of developing type 2 diabetes, a chronic disease that can damage your organs and nerves.
- High blood pressure: The extra strain on your heart and blood vessels, causing them to work harder to pump blood throughout your body. This can raise your blood pressure and increase your risk of heart attack, stroke, kidney disease, and death.
- Heart disease: Obesity can also affect your blood cholesterol and triglyceride levels, which are important for keeping your arteries healthy. High levels of bad cholesterol (LDL) and low levels of good cholesterol (HDL) can lead to plaque buildup in your arteries, which can narrow them and reduce blood flow to your heart. This can cause chest pain (angina), heart failure, or a heart attack.
- Stroke: Occurs when a blood clot or a burst blood vessel blocks the blood flow to a part of your brain, stopping it getting the oxygen and nutrients it needs. This can damage brain cells and impact your ability to speak, move, or think. Obesity can increase your risk of stroke by raising your blood pressure, blood sugar, and blood cholesterol levels.
- Some cancers: You at more risk of developing certain types of cancer, such as breast, colon, endometrial, esophageal, kidney, liver, and pancreatic cancer. This may be because obesity can cause chronic inflammation, hormonal changes, or impaired immune function that can promote cancer growth.
- Breathing problems: Obesity can affect your respiratory system by reducing the amount of oxygen that reaches your lungs and increasing the amount of carbon dioxide that builds up in your blood. This can make you feel short of breath and tired. It can also worsen conditions such as asthma, sleep apnea, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and Covid-19.
- Osteoarthritis: A degenerative joint disease that causes pain, stiffness, and reduced mobility in your joints. Obesity can increase the pressure on your weight-bearing joints, such as your knees, hips, and lower back, and accelerate the wear and tear of the cartilage that cushions them.
Mental health risks, which can start at a young age:
- Depression, anxiety and lowered mood – impacting decisions made around food
- Low self-esteem, affecting your mood
- Poor body image, which can affect your future relationship with your body
- Disordered eating behaviour as you may feel stuck in certain patterns
What support is out there?
On a national level, the NHS offers a range of services and support for people who want to lose weight or maintain a healthy weight. These include:
- The NHS weight loss plan, which is a 12-week programme that provides information, advice and tools to help people lose weight safely and effectively
- The NHS Health Check, which is a free check-up for adults aged 40 to 74 that assesses their risk of developing some of the most common causes of illness and death in the UK, such as heart disease, stroke, diabetes and kidney disease. One Wirral also support the delivery of Wirral community health checks, which have a number of partners available where you can get yours for free if you aren’t able to get to your GP.
- The NHS referral to weight management services, which is a digital service that helps people who have a BMI of 30 or more or other weight-related health problems to access specialist support from dietitians, psychologists, exercise specialists and surgeons
There are also dedicated organisations and charities that offer support groups or additional help:
We think it’s important to work with other organisations and partners to tackle obesity on both a local and national level, aimingto create more knowledge around food, promote physical activity, reduce health inequalities and support behaviour change.
At One Wirral, we have team members who provide face-to-face training for health professionals to support their learning about obesity and improve their conversation techniques when speaking with people about their weight. Language matters, and with the short appointment windows a lot of people are given, it’s vital that that time is maximised as much as possible, to really see results.