Highly obese men and women are at risk for a multitude of health complications, according to a new study conducted by researchers in the Public Health Sciences Division.
In addition to well-known weight-related conditions such as high blood pressure and diabetes, the researchers found that obese individuals were afflicted with a wide range of problems including chronic joint pain, headaches, impotence and depression symptoms.
Among the study's results were that highly obese women are 12 times more likely to have diabetes or knee-replacement surgery, and five times more likely to have high blood pressure than women who are at a normal weight. Men in the highest weight categories are eight times more likely to have diabetes, and six times more likely to have a knee replaced or have high blood pressure than are their normal-weight peers. Obesity also increased the odds of several rare diseases such as pancreatitis and health complaints such as chronic fatigue and insomnia.
Compendium of conditions
"People know about how obesity affects high blood pressure," said Dr. Alan Kristal, a co-author of the study. "What we don't think about is the way obesity makes you feel with chronic health conditions you'll live with forever. Not only will obesity kill you, but it will make you miserable."
The National Cancer Institute-funded study — the first to provide data on the association of obesity with such a compendium of health conditions — appears in the December issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine. The analysis was led by Dr. Ruth Patterson, a former member of the Cancer Prevention Program, and included PHS colleagues Drs. Laura Frank, Emily White and Kristal. Patterson is now director of Science and Technology for the San Diego Foundation.
A recent study found that more than 70 percent of men and women aged 55 to 74 in the United States were overweight or obese, a figure that has doubled in the last 30 years.
To investigate the range of health complications associated with obesity, researchers evaluated information provided by 73,003 adults aged 50 to 76 who lived in Western Washington. The scientists correlated obesity with 41 health conditions, including life-threatening conditions, like heart failure; some, like high blood pressure, that increase the risk of more serious diseases; and health complaints that reduce the quality of life, like insomnia or chronic fatigue.
Kristal noted that because the study population was so large, the researchers could examine the effects among morbidly obese individuals — those with body-mass index (BMI) ratios greater than 40 — as well as those considered simply obese (BMI 30 to 40) or overweight (BMI 25 to 30).
Carrying extra weight was tied to 37 of the 41 health conditions studied in women and 29 of 41 conditions in men. In addition to diabetes, knee replacement and high blood pressure, highly obese women were also more likely to have a history of heart failure, gall bladder removal, pulmonary embolism, chronic fatigue and insomnia. However, these women also experienced slightly lower levels of osteoporotic fractures and constipation, Patterson said.
Highly obese men also experienced more heart failure, fatigue, pulmonary embolism and insomnia, but slightly lower rates of enlarged prostate.
Doctors should consider the diverse ways that increased weight affects their patients' health when they counsel or treat them, Patterson said. "Effective and practical public-health approaches to preventing weight gain and treating obesity are urgently needed."