Why does it matter if someone is overweight or obese?

Carrying excess weight can put extra strain on the body, especially on the joints and the heart.

However, excess body fat is not just extra padding- it also produces hormones and chemicals that can make you susceptible to a range of serious illnesses.

Research shows that being overweight or obese increases the likelihood of you suffering from certain conditions (click condition for more details):

Weight and Cancer

Obesity increases the risk of some types of cancer.

There is strong evidence that obese women are at increased risk for cancer of the uterus (womb).

Women who have been through the menopause and are obese or overweight have a greater risk of developing breast cancer.

There is also some evidence for a link between obesity and cancer of the bowel and kidney.

Even if you are happy with your weight, eating well and taking regular exercise will improve your health.

For more information on cancer, visit the Cancer Research UK website.

Weight and coronary heart disease

People with excess body fat, particularly fat carried around the middle, (technically called central adiposity/obesity), are more likely to develop heart disease. The bigger the waist, the higher the risk.

  • For women, a healthy waist measurement is less than 32 inches / 80 centimetres.
  • For men, a healthy waist measurement is less than 37 inches / 94 centimetres.

It does not matter how tall you are, how muscular or how 'big-boned', none of these affect the validity of waist measurements in predicting risk of coronary heart disease.

  • It is estimated that more than 6,000 deaths a year from coronary heart disease are due to obesity.
  • Excess weight raises blood pressure and increases hormones which affect the development of heart disease.
  • Most overweight people have high levels of LDL, the harmful type of cholesterol, and lower levels of HDL, which is a type of cholesterol that is good for you.
  • If you are overweight or obese, by losing as little 10% of your weight you can lower the risk of heart disease.

Even if you are happy with your weight, taking regular exercise will help protect your health:

  • physical activity reduces the risk of developing coronary heart disease
  • among people who have heart attacks, those who have been physically active are twice as likely to survive the heart attack compared to people who have not been active
  • physical activity as part of a rehabilitation programme reduces the risk of dying after a heart attack by 20%

Weight Concern recommends that you should try and take vigorous exercise at least five days a week for 30 minutes. Vigorous exercise means something that leaves you slightly breathless and it does not have to be all taken at once, it can be taken in two 15 minute periods.

For more information on coronary heart disease, visit the British Heart Foundation or the American Heart Association website.

Weight and diabetes

There are two main types of diabetes.

Type 1 is often developed at a young age and people with type 1 diabetes need insulin injections.

Type 2 often used to be known as late onset diabetes and was more common amongst older people and amongst middle-aged and older people who are overweight and obese.

Along with the increase in the number of obese children, the number of teenagers developing type 2 diabetes has increased dramatically.

Your chance of developing type 2 diabetes rises steeply with increased body fatness. (80% of type 2 diabetics are overweight or obese at time of diagnosis).

Weight management through diet and exercise can significantly delay/reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. One study found that combining weight loss of 7 kilos or a stone, along with 150 minutes a week of physical activity, reduced the number of obese people developing type 2 diabetes by 58%.

For people who are already have diabetes, being overweight increases their chance of developing serious complications.

Even if you are happy with your weight, taking regular exercise will improve your health. If you are a diabetic or have a family history of diabetes it will be even more effective in protecting your health. (If you are a diabetic you should seek advice from your GP or diabetic specialist nurse, before starting a new exercise programme).

For more information on diabetes, visit the Diabetes UK website or Department of Health website.

Weight and osteoarthritis

Obesity is the main risk factor for developing osteoarthritis of the knee.

Knee osteoarthritis is the most common cause of major disability, affecting over half a million people in the UK.

Between a quarter and a half of all knee osteoarthritis might be prevented by eliminating obesity.

It is also well documented that exercise can reduce the pain of knee osteoarthritis.

Even if you are happy with your weight, and whether you have osteoarthritis or not, taking regular exercise will improve your health.

For more information on osteoarthritis, visit the Arthritis Research Campaign website.

Weight and strokes

Being obese increases the chance of suffering a stroke.

There are also links between obesity and lack of exercise - those who are physically inactive have three times the risk of a stroke.

Research on middle-aged men found that moderate levels of physical activity, such as frequent walking plus a recreational activity or sporting activity once a week, had a significant benefit on their risk of heart disease and stroke.

Similarly, women who were physically active were at lower risk of stroke.

For more information on strokes, visit the Stroke Association website.

More about weight and liver disease

This information is intended for overweight or obese individuals who may be at risk of liver disease.

  • Obesity is strongly associated with fatty liver, one of the most common forms of liver disease.
  • This non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) is seen when fatty deposits build up on the liver.
  • This can lead, in some individuals, to inflammation of the liver and long-term damage.
Who is affected?
  • 1 in 5 people in the UK are thought to have early stage NAFLD.
  • NAFLD is more common in men and those over 50 years of age.
  • An increasing number of children are developing fatty liver disease associated with obesity.

But not everyone with fatty liver disease is overweight and being overweight or obese does not necessarily lead to a fatty liver.

What can we do to reduce NAFLD?
  • Make sustainable, long-term changes to lifestyle to maintain a healthy weight (see 3 step plan).
  • Exercise significantly reduces liver fat therefore keeping active is key alongside healthy eating (how to become more active).
  • A weight loss of 3-10% (if overweight or obese) achieved via these lifestyle changes can lead to improved liver health (set a target weight).
  • A healthy lifestyle will also help with treatment of any associated conditions such as diabetes or high blood pressure (always seek the advice of your G.P. for medical conditions).

For more information on NAFLD, please see the British Liver Trust website

Obesity reduces life expectancy by on average nine years and causes 9000 premature deaths each year in England.

Managing your weight

The positive news is that even moderate amounts of weight loss can significantly improve your health. If you are overweight, losing 5-10% of your body weight can significantly reduce your risk of high blood pressure, diabetes and high cholesterol.