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How Your Weight Affects Your Health

by Dr. Nancy Rahnama

Director of Health & Nurition

As children, many of us learn songs about how each body part is connected to the next bone in line, for example, the knee bone is connected to the leg bone, and so on. But there’s one element of our bodies that is linked to pretty much all other body parts: our weight (or more specifically, our body fat percentage). Our weight often determines the state of our hearts, bones, muscles, and brains.

An unhealthy weight can have major impacts on health - some issues can be directly linked to being overweight, but other issues can be masked as another problem.

Over 40% of the U.S population is obese, and with this issue affecting so many families, it’s worth knowing the facts when it comes to good physical health.

How can my weight affect my health?

Not every weight gain or weight loss story is black and white, and many cases of obesity come with complex psychological issues and societal factors. Having said this, it is important to note the physical effects of being overweight. Here are some things that can happen when a person is overweight:

An increased risk of diabetes

Type 2 diabetes has a high correlation with weight. One interesting study of women with BMIs lower than 22 and 35 or higher respectively discovered that those with a BMI of 25 or higher had a risk of diabetes 93 times higher than those with a lower BMI.

But why does our body weight influence our risk of developing diabetes? Fat cells secrete hormones and cause extra inflammation, making it more difficult for insulin to do its job. This can lead to higher blood sugar levels and diabetes later on.

A hindrance to memory and cognitive function

At 65, the estimated lifetime risk for Alzheimer’s disease is 9.1% for men and 17.2% for women (the latter likely due to the fact females typically live longer than males). While more in-depth research is needed, obesity has been linked to an increased risk of developing dementia.

A higher risk of heart disease

Clot-induced stroke and coronary artery disease share several risk factors and disease processes. When a body has excess weight, it leads to higher blood pressure and cholesterol, which can lead to an increased risk of coronary heart disease and stroke.

In one study of 390,000 people across nationalities and ethnic groups, obesity was significantly connected with loss of life due to cardiovascular disease and coronary artery disease.

Potential sleep apnea and reduced lung function

When a significant amount of fat is gained around the neck, it can affect the function of the diaphragm. The build-up of fat can hinder the chest wall’s flexibility, reducing respiratory muscle strength, and narrowing the airways within the lungs. This often leads to issues breathing at night, which can feel extremely stressful and frightening and can lead to the patient relying on a machine to breathe properly.

A higher chance of poor mental health

There has been some research on weight, self-image, and mood over the last decade. While researchers haven’t yet made a definitive biological link between poor mental health and obesity, possible links include insulin resistance, increased inflammation, altered hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axes, and certain cultural and social factors.

One 28-year analysis of 58,000 participants discovered that those who were notably overweight at the beginning of the study were 55 more likely to develop depression by the time the follow-up period had ended. It also found that those who had been prone to depression at the beginning of the study were 58 percent more at risk of becoming obese.

Health-related quality of life is a fairly new field of research but makes a clear association between the effects of obesity and psychological, physical, and social functioning.

An increased risk of musculoskeletal disorders such as arthritis

Excess weight can put significant pressure on joints and cause painful friction. This can make it hard to move around, which, in turn, reduces the person’s ability to exercise and lose weight. This cycle often continues until the person reaches an extremely unhealthy weight and needs to rely on medication.

Studies have seen a correlation between excess weight and osteoarthritis in certain joints. Obesity also brings with it a higher risk of pain in the back and lower limbs and may even cause disability linked with these musculoskeletal conditions.

Negative effects on one’s reproductive health

The effects of obesity on male reproduction are not heavily studied at present, but we do know that in females, weight can affect the mother’s fertility and pregnancy and the health of the baby. Higher weights can increase the risk of gestational diabetes, ovulatory infertility, and pre-eclampsia. Studies have seen some increased risk of congenital abnormalities with obesity in pregnancy.

What can I do to maintain a healthy weight?

Obesity affects almost every aspect of our health, from increasing our risk of developing chronic conditions like cardiovascular disease and diabetes to hindering our breathing, sexual function, mental health, and even how we view ourselves in society.

But obesity isn’t permanent. Diet, exercise, and prescribed medications can help with weight loss among the obese. More specifically, a reduction of 5-10% of body weight can significantly improve the risk of the health conditions mentioned above.

If you’re ready to improve your health for the better, explore the resources on my blog to get the truth on how to start losing weight.


Dr. Nancy Rahnama, MD, ABOM, ABIM, is a medical doctor board certified by both the American Board of Obesity Medicine and the American Board of Internal Medicine. Her specialty is Clinical Nutrition, that is, the use of nutrition by a medical doctor to diagnose and treat disease. Dr. Rahnama has helped thousands of people achieve their goals of weight loss, gut health, improved mood and sleep, and managing chronic disease. In addition to her private practice in Beverly Hills, she is also the co-founder and Director of Nutrition for Dr Nancy MD.

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