Obesity has long been associated with heart disease and diabetes, but medical professionals and scientific studies leave little doubt that carrying excess weight may lead to or worsen arthritis, sleep apnea, infertility and some types of cancer.
A poll late last year by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research shows only about 25 percent of people think someone can be very overweight and still healthy. The survey of 1,011 people nationwide also suggests few Americans realize the links obesity has to other medical maladies.
More than 7 in 10 Americans correctly tick off heart disease and diabetes. The first is the nation’s leading killer. Diabetes and obesity are twin epidemics, the rates of both having climbed significantly in recent years.
Other health consequences related to obesity are less well known to the general public, including high blood pressure, high cholesterol, strokes, infertility, respiratory problems, asthma. And only 5 percent of those polled were aware dropping pounds can improve their health.
“People are often shocked to hear how far-reaching the effects of obesity are,” said Jennifer Dimitriou, a bariatric dietitian at New York’s Montefiore Medical Center.
Yet, doctors have long known fat increases the risk of developing cancers of the colon, breast, prostate, uterus and certain other sites. In addition, being overweight can make it harder to detect and treat tumors. Obesity also takes a toll on joints, especially the knees, helping to create a vicious cycle as joint pain makes it harder to exercise and shed pounds.
Dimitriou believes knowing more about the myriad ways obesity affects health could help motivate people to get more active and eat better before full-blown disease strikes. “Most people want to become healthier. It’s the know-how, and understanding what the consequences are,” she says.
But only 52 percent of those surveyed said they’ve discussed the health risks of being overweight with a doctor.
Government data show two-thirds of U.S. adults, and one-third of children and teens, are either overweight or obese. Yet, the AP-NORC Center survey found about half of people think their weight is just about right, and only 12 percent of parents think their child is overweight.