The Health Effects of Overweight and Obesity

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The Health Effects of Overweight and Obesity


Obesity is a common problem that is estimated to affect around one in 3 adults. In 2017, there were 2,200 million people who had obesity. Obesity has increased 3 times more in men and 2 times more in women. In Thailand, this is also increasing. As for the ranking of obesity in the ASEAN region, Thailand came second after Malaysia. There are 10 million people with obesity in Thailand – 4.7 million men and 11.3 million women. 

Obesity is generally caused by consuming more calories than burning through daily activities and exercises. Factors that contribute to obesity are as below.

  • Take in more calories – particularly fatty and sugary foods such as bakery, sweets, chips, sweetened drinks
  • Unhealthy diet
  • Take fast food often or addicted to fast food
  • Inactivity, sedentary lifestyle
  • Appropriate method to control weight – yo-yo effect
  • Slow metabolism
  • Others


How to tell if you are obese?

Obesity is diagnosed by calculating your body mass index (BMI). Your body mass index is calculated by dividing your weight in kilograms (kg) by your height in meters (m) squared.

( You can calculate your BMI at ‘Calculate your BMI‘ )


Obesity and health problems

If you are obese, you are more likely to develop many health problems including:  

  • Fatty liver disease

    20% of people with obesity have fatty liver disease. Fatty liver is a condition when too much fat is stored in liver cells. Fat is usually stored in the form of triglycerides. Fatty liver develops when the body has excess blood sugar and the liver has to turn it into fat.

  • Obstructive sleep apnea
  • In adults, the most common cause of obstructive sleep apnea is excess weight and obesity, which is associated with soft tissue of the mouth and throat. During sleep, when throat and tongue muscles are more relaxed, this soft tissue can cause the airway to become blocked.

  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Excess weight, especially central or abdominal obesity, significantly increases the risk for heart disease. The association of obesity with cardiovascular risk factors, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes, has been well established.

  • Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
  • Extra fat around the abdomen increases the pressure on the stomach, forcing fluid up into the esophagus. This leads to gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).

  • Urinary incontinence
  • Obesity may lead to chronic strain, stretching, and weakening of the muscles of the pelvic area. This could contribute to urinary incontinence.

  • Abnormal menstruation
  • Obesity can cause irregular periods. Estrogen is normally produced by the ovaries, but is also produced in the fat cells. More fat cells translates to more estrogen, a thicker uterine lining, and heavy bleeding during menstruation. If enough estrogen is produced in the fat cells it can even interrupt the regular cycling of other important menstrual hormones, causing abnormal menstruation.

  • Diabetes mellitus
  • Obesity is thought to trigger changes to the body’s metabolism. These changes cause fat tissue to release free fatty acid and glucose into the blood. This affects insulin responsive cells and leads to reduced insulin sensitivity. More insulin is needed to bring down blood glucose levels. As a result the pancreas needs to produce more insulin than it would normally need to. If the pancreas can no longer produce enough insulin to bring down sugar levels, the symptoms of diabetes will begin to appear.

  • Osteoarthritis

  • Being overweight increases the load placed on the joints such as knee, which increases stresses and could hasten the breakdown of the cartilage. Obesity is a clear risk factor for developing osteoarthritis.


Moreover, people who are obese are more likely to have depression. This normally gets better when the patient loses weight. The best way to treat obesity is to eat a healthy, consume reduced-calorie diet and exercise regularly. If lifestyle change does not help, it is better to consult a doctor. Bariatric or weight loss surgery might be one of the treatment options for obesity.


How to avoid the obesity epidemic?


  1. Improve your eating habits – eat lots of fruits and vegetables, drink 8-10 glasses of water/day
  2. Cook your food by boiling, steaming, and grilling. Avoid stir-fried or deep fried food.
  3. Avoid sweetened or alcoholic drinks – 1 can of soft drink has 7-12 teaspoons of sugar, 1 can of green tea drink has 8-14 teaspoons of sugar.
  4. Exercise regularly at least 30 minutes a day. Try to begin with light exercise and gradually increase the duration and intensity. Yoga and swimming is good for obese people as it reduces the risk of hurting the joints.
  5. Get enough sleep – Appropriate time to sleep is around 10pm to 6am. Research shows that sleep schedule can affect your metabolism rate.
  6. Being active. Some types of physical activity and exercise can burn a lot of calories. But everyday activities burn calories, too. Simply parking farther away from the grocery store and walking the extra distance can help burn extra calories.
  7. For some people, lifestyle change does not help. It is better to consult a doctor about the appropriate methods or treatment options to lose weight and also prevent other health problems.



New England Journal of Medicine :

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