Obesity: How excess weight affects health

Being overweight can lead to serious health problems. Read on to find out more about causes, consequences and treatment options of obesity!

11/06/237min read
    Woman standing on a scale.

    Obesity (severe overweight) has become a widespread disease in Switzerland, as in many other countries. The Swiss Federal Office of Public Health (BAG) reports that around 42 percent of the adult population in Switzerland is overweight, 15 percent of whom are even obese, i.e. severely overweight. Overweight people are often stigmatized in our society. It is said that they simply eat too much and exercise too little. However, obesity is a serious chronic disease that can be caused by a variety of factors and can lead to numerous serious secondary diseases.

    In this article, we would like to show what types of obesity there are, how obesity develops and how it can be treated in a targeted manner.

    What is obesity?

    Obesity, also known as severe overweight, is a condition in which the body accumulates excessive amounts of fat tissue. Due to the increased body fat, the body weight of those affected deviates greatly from a normal weight. Obesity can pose a strong health risk and be associated with various secondary diseases.

    In order to find out whether and to what extent one is affected by being overweight, the body mass index (BMI) is used, among other things. The formula for calculating BMI is as follows:

    BMI = body weight in kilograms / (height in meters)2.

    However, you can also calculate it automatically with various online BMI calculators. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the normal score for a BMI is between 18.5 and 25 kilograms per m2. If the BMI score is below 18.5 kg/m2, you may be underweight.

    Important: BMI scores are only a rough measure of a healthy weight, since the entire body mass is included here. The BMI calculator cannot differentiate between fat or muscle mass. A big amount of muscle mass or a high bone density can therefore not be recognized as such, which leads to incorrect BMI scores.

    Different degrees of obesity

    Obesity is divided into different classifications:

    • Pre-obesity
      Pre-obisity describes BMI values of 25.1 to 29.9 kg/m2. This low level of overweight is usually associated with only a few diseases. However, according to Adipositas Zürich, the proportion of preadipose people has been steadily increasing throughout Switzerland for many years.
    • Obesity class I
      A BMI of 30 to 34.9 kg/m2 defines the so-called obesity class I. From this class onwards, one speaks of pathological overweight. Here, the risk of developing type II diabetes mellitus increases significantly.
    • Obesity class II
      A BMI of 35 to 39.9 kg/m2 is referred to as obesity class II. With increasing obesity such as this, the risk of secondary diseases (diabetes, fatty liver, joint wear, heart and tumor diseases) continues to rise. Because of these serious health risks, measures to reduce weight should be initiated immediately.
    • Obesity class III
      Class III obesity is also known as morbid obesity or obesity permagna. It is defined as a BMI value of 40 kg/m2 or more. This severe form of obesity has been shown to be associated with a significant reduction in life expectancy. The reason for this reduced life expectancy is again the secondary diseases that are associated with severe obesity. The combination of several secondary diseases can also lead to the so-called metabolic syndrome. In this type of obesity, surgical intervention is often the only option for therapy.
    Stressed woman rests her face on her hands.
    Stress, sleep deprivation and mental illness can promote the development of obesity.

    The development of obesity

    If the body gets too much energy in the form of food, and at the same time burns too little, a surplus develops, which is stored as fat in fat cells. However, not only unhealthy eating habits and lack of exercise play a role, but also genetic predisposition, psychological problems or other environmental factors.

    The German Obesity Society summarizes the following causes of obesity:

    • lifestyle (e.g., lack of exercise, malnutrition)
    • genetic causes
    • stress
    • lack of sleep
    • depressive illnesses
    • low social status
    • metabolic disorders
    • constant availability of food
    • eating disorders (for example, binge-eating disorder)
    • endocrine disorders (for example, hypothyroidism, Cushing's syndrome)
    • medications (for example, certain antidepressants, neuroleptics, contraceptives, beta-blockers)
    • other causes (for example immobilization after an accident, pregnancy, quitting nicotine)

    Consequences of obesity

    Obesity can have the following effects on the body:

    High blood pressure:

    Obesity and high blood pressure often go hand in hand. The excess fatty tissue requires increased blood flow, which causes blood pressure to rise. Untreated high blood pressure can lead to serious cardiovascular disease, including heart attack and stroke.

    Sleep apnea syndrome:

    Sleep apnea is a serious health problem that is common in overweight people. Breathing pauses occur during sleep, resulting in poor sleep quality and daytime sleepiness. This can significantly affect quality of life and increase the risk of accidents on the road or at work.

    Type 2 diabetes mellitus:

    Obesity is one of the main factors in the development of type 2 diabetes. In this condition, the body is less able to use insulin effectively, resulting in elevated blood glucose levels. Untreated diabetes can lead to serious complications such as kidney disease, blindness and amputations.

    Man with diabetes checks his blood sugar levels.
    Diabetes is one of the most common consequences of obesity.

    Eating disorders:

    Obesity is not only caused by eating disorders, it can also lead to disordered eating behaviors when trying to reduce body weight. This can result in eating disorders such as binge eating disorder or bulimia, which pose significant health risks.

    Cardiovascular disease:

    Obesity is a major factor in the development of cardiovascular disease. The added stress on the cardiovascular system from excess weight can lead to heart failure, coronary artery disease, heart attack and stroke.

    Fatty liver:

    Fatty liver, also known as non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, is a common complication of obesity. It is often associated with insulin resistance. If this condition is not treated, it can lead to liver damage and, in severe cases, cirrhosis.

    Gallstones:

    Obesity is a risk factor for the formation of gallstones, which can cause severe pain and inflammation.

    Mental health problems:

    Obesity can increase psychological problems such as depression and low self-esteem. The social stigmas associated with obesity can lead to social isolation and psychological stress.

    Heartburn:

    Obesity increases the risk of heartburn and gastroesophageal reflux, which can lead to stomach problems and damage to the esophagus.

    Infertility:

    Women who are overweight have an increased risk of infertility due to menstrual problems and hormonal imbalances. In men, obesity can affect the quality of sperm.

    Cancer:

    Obesity is associated with an increased risk of certain cancers, including breast cancer, colon cancer, uterine cancer, and more. The exact mechanisms that explain this link are still being researched.

    Metabolic syndrome:

    Metabolic syndrome, which includes a combination of risk factors for cardiovascular disease, is more common in overweight individuals. These include elevated blood pressure, high blood glucose levels, and elevated blood lipids.

    Effects on the musculoskeletal system:

    The extra weight puts enormous strain on the joints and can lead to back problems, hip and knee pain. This can limit mobility and cause pain, which can get in the way of obesity treatment.

    Man holds on to his aching chest.
    Being overweight can cause serious heart problems.

    Treating Obesity: The path to better health

    Treating obesity is an important step toward improving health and reducing the risks associated with severe obesity. There is no quick fix, but a combination of healthy eating, physical activity and professional support can help manage obesity. Here are some steps and approaches to managing obesity:

    1. Healthy diet:
    A balanced diet is critical. Caloric intake must be reduced and, at best, focus on a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean protein. Sugary drinks, high fat foods should be avoided at all costs.

    2. Control portion size:
    Not only the change of diet, but also the adjustment of portion size plays a big role in weight loss. It is well known that quantity makes the poison.

    3. Exercise and energy consumption:
    Regular exercise is a key to weight reduction and maintenance. However, it is not the exercise itself that is decisive, but the energy consumption of the so-called "lean body mass". This lean body mass burns more calories than fat tissue. Training and exercise primarily support the development of muscles, which in turn leads to more lean body mass and therefore increased energy consumption.

    4. Behavioral therapy:
    Behavioral therapy can help identify and change unfavorable eating habits and behavior patterns. A therapist or counselor can provide support.

    5. Medication:
    In some cases, the counseling health care professional may prescribe medications that can aid in weight loss. However, these should always be used in combination with a healthy diet and exercise.

    6. Bariatric surgery:
    In cases of severe obesity, surgical measures may be considered. Such surgery can, for example, reduce the size of the stomach.

    7. Professional support:
    You are not on your own in the treatment of obesity. Working with a medical team, which may include doctors, nutritionists, therapists and fitness trainers or physiotherapists, can be extremely helpful. These experts can create individualized treatment plans and monitor progress.

    8. Long-term commitment:
    Treating obesity requires patience and commitment. It is important to understand that weight loss is a long-term commitment.

    9. Support from family and friends:
    Support from the social environment is critical. Family and friends can encourage, support change, and promote positive behaviors.

    10. Maintain healthy lifestyle habits:
    After reaching the goal weight, it is important to maintain the newly learned healthy habits to avoid the yo-yo effect.

    As you can see, obesity treatment requires a holistic approach that takes into account physical, emotional and social aspects. Each person is unique, so the treatment approach should also be individualized.

    Woman doing stretching yoga pose.
    A healthy life style can prevent or treat many of the secondary diseases associated with obesity.

    Treating secondary diseases with Akina

    The musculoskeletal system is heavily burdened by too much body weight - it literally has too much to carry. Every excess kilo weighs on the bones and joints, which can be severely affected as a concomitant disease of obesity. Degenerative joint diseases such as arthrosis develop, which persist even after weight loss. Long-term consequences are pain in the back, hips or knees.

    In most cases, physiotherapy can help relieve this pain and maintain mobility. With Akina, you get just that and more: our AI-based training software helps you do therapeutic workouts at home. Our program recognizes your movements and guides you in real time - your workout is personalized to you, making it both gentle and effective. Our sessions are also complemented by meditative sessions, which have been proven to reduce stress and support mental health. Would you like to try our program? Sign up using the button below and be one of the first to try Akina Cloud. We look forward to having you on board!

    11/06/237min read

    Share this article

      About the author

      Content Writer

      Better begins today.

      Stay in the loop and be the first to know about our expanding range of programs dedicated to relieving pain and promoting movement.

      You are a healthcare professional?

      Go to providers
      Akina Logo

      At Akina, we believe in the power of connecting patients and physiotherapists beyond the clinic. Together, we can pave the path to better and beyond by guiding every move.

      © 2024 Akina