Health Effects of Obesity: What Happens to Your Body When You Weigh Too Much?

Obesity is a condition that develops after years of progressive weight gain. Regardless of what might cause this change, its effects on the health of both children and adults in the United States haven’t gone unnoticed.

More and more U.S. states are reporting high rates of adult and childhood obesity. Similarly, rates of related conditions such as heart disease aren’t seeming to improve. Put simply, we’re in pretty bad shape — and not just due to a lack of physical activity.

In order to speculate why this has happened, it’s important to first understand what actually causes weight gain — and why gaining more weight only makes the problem worse. It’s also essential to acknowledge that prevention strategies are simple to suggest, but hard for many people to implement in their daily lives.

What causes weight gain?

Weight gain

Weight gain | Highwaystarz-Photography/iStock/Getty Images

Why do people gain weight? While it’s true that consuming more calories than you burn causes weight gain, it’s not always an energy balance issue alone. The foods you eat are affecting your body, and if you’re mostly feeding it processed carbohydrates, for example, you’re more likely to gain weight — even if you don’t overeat.

The average American diet promotes insulin resistance, a possible contributor to obesity. When your body doesn’t use insulin properly, it tends to have a hard time deciding where to put the energy you consume. Your body is supposed to use it for fuel. It doesn’t always do that readily when your hormones are behaving abnormally.

Speaking of hormones, you also have one that’s supposed to tell your brain when you’re full. People who are obese sometimes have problems with this hormone, and gain even more weight as a result.

When it comes to obesity, it’s often impossible to pinpoint one or two factors as “causes.” Many contributing elements work together to increase body fat and put your health at risk, even when it feels like you’re doing all you can to stop it from happening.

Other possible causes range from food addiction to certain medications to nutrition misinformation. The point is, there could be a handful of reasons someone is dangerously overweight and appears to not be able to control it. But being aware of the risks might help inspire behavior change — even if it’s small.

Obesity-related diseases and conditions

Obesity negatively impacts the body in various ways. It narrows the airways, puts added stress on the heart, and can even make it harder to lose weight.

People living with obesity are at an increased risk of developing health conditions — some of them potentially deadly — such as:

  • Type 2 diabetes
  • High blood pressure
  • Heart disease
  • Sleep apnea
  • Cancer
  • GERD
  • Stroke.

If you are classified as obese, you are also more likely to develop something called metabolic syndrome. This condition is a collection of health problems that occur together — usually high blood pressure, high blood sugar, and high cholesterol — that put you at an even higher risk of heart problems.

Is it possible to stop all these things and more from happening before they become life-threatening health issues? The good news is, you can prevent obesity and its associated complications. The bad news? It’s not always as simple as it seems.

Can obesity be prevented?

Exercise and weight gain

Exercise and weight gain | iStock.com/Bogdanhoda

Stanford Health Care suggests a number of weight-control strategies that align with the government’s diet and exercise recommendations, including:

  • Choosing whole grains over refined carbohydrates
  • Eating at least five servings of both fruits and vegetables daily
  • Steering clear of foods high in calories and low in nutrition
  • Monitoring portion sizes
  • Moving more — even if it’s only 15 minutes of extra walking.

Of course, these things aren’t equally simple for everyone. If you’re dealing with severe life stressors that make focusing on your diet or exercise routine a low priority, for example, you’re much less likely to be able to follow a diet plan or take the time to walk around the block.

But what you put into your body — whether it’s food, alcohol, or a medication or other drug — does matter. For some, obesity prevention requires an entire overhaul of long-standing habits that are hard to break. And, as mentioned above, some people who try to lose weight struggle more than others. What worked for your co-worker’s sister’s fiance’s boss might not work for you.

The bottom line? Do what you can to take better care of yourself before you find yourself in worse shape than you’ve ever been before.

You don’t have to wake up tomorrow and completely change your diet. People who join weight loss programs spend months — sometimes years — replacing bad habits with better ones. As long as you’re doing something positive for your health, positive changes will come. And it’s much less likely that poor health outcomes will.