Liam Rodgers

The Dangers Of Obesity And How To Manage Them

Discussing obesity in health terms is about changing body composition, not just weight.


1 in 3 people is overweight, and more than 2 in 5 adults have obesity. That puts 60% of the population in the danger zone for obesity and its comorbidities.

It has become abnormal to maintain a healthy body weight. The major risk of this is early death, but it’s not the only danger. Obesity brings significantly worse quality of life, mental well-being, and a wide range of problems that they’d be unlikely to experience otherwise.

We’re here to discuss the dangers of obesity and why it’s important to manage your weight – and what that means.

Dangers and myths: how does obesity work?

It’s easy to get emotional about obesity – it can be a burden on confidence and self-perception.

On the one hand, it’s very personal when it’s your condition and lifestyle. It’s important to remember it’s not identical to you – obesity is something you’re dealing with, and it is improved with education and new habits.

On the other hand, everyone knows someone who is obese, and many more have lost loved ones to associated health conditions. A 2014 study shows that extreme obesity can shorten one’s life expectancy by as much as 14 years.

It’s important to establish important truths and bust myths so that the way forward is easier and clearer.

Mass: weight loss or fat loss?

Body weight is not the major determinant of health. It’s just a convenient measure we use because, on average, weighing a lot is the result of excess fat.

Obesity is a byword for excessively high body fat mass. This is crucial for 2 reasons:

1. You can weigh a lot and be very muscular, lean, and healthy (some athletes and bodybuilders are technically ‘obese’)

2. You can weigh a normal amount and have dangerously high body fat levels (with low muscle mass, for example)

Discussing obesity in health terms is about changing body composition, not just weight. What most people want to focus on is fat loss, which improves health, not just weight loss.

Gaining muscle can offset weight loss while you still lose fat. Equally, losing weight isn’t much use if you lose muscle mass and bone density!

‘Size doesn’t determine health’


It would be comforting to think that obesity was not unhealthy or dangerous. However, this goes in the face of a huge body of scientific research; more people die from obesity than from any other cause.

The dangers of obesity are one of the very few areas of major, persistent scientific consensus for the past 100 years. However, there is a smart approach to losing weight that isn’t just fuelled by self-loathing; think about being proactive and focusing on the way you want to look and feel, that’s a top priority.

‘Normal bodyweight obesity’

Normal weight obesity is a major health problem. All the risks discussed in this article apply to people with this ‘skinny fat’ physique.

Low muscle mass is no benefit. If your body mass is primarily fat, these problems may apply to you equally. This often evolves into pronounced health problems over time: low muscle mass is an independent risk for conditions like metabolic syndrome, joint injury, and all-cause morbidity.

The dangers of obesity

Obesity increases risks in every system in your body, with the main effects being damage to the cardiorespiratory system, hormones, cell health, metabolism, and joints.

Because of how these systems work, you are likely to also experience secondary effects in other areas. These are all important – especially if you have other medical conditions – but are ‘downstream’ from the mortal risks and will improve as your ‘big’ risks reduce.

Cardiorespiratory dangers


The main danger of obesity is that it contributes to heart and lung-related deaths. The most common cause of death, coronary heart disease, is directly related to obesity across many interactions.

Excessive body fat is a major risk factor. Studies show that visceral fat is one of the best predictors of cardiorespiratory risks, as well as other diseases.

Even prior to this, obesity shares some ‘common ancestors’ with heart disease. Excessive eating and under-exercising (the mechanism for obesity being some combination of the two) raise blood pressure, and cholesterol levels, and reduces the flexibility and function of the blood vessels.

This is why conditions like atherosclerosis are more common in obese people.

Hormonal dangers

The hormonal effects of obesity only contribute to the problems raised above. Dysregulation of hormones like insulin is mortally dangerous – diabetes and pre-diabetes are major risks for people of all ages and backgrounds.

Diabetes kills 1.5 million people per year among 422 million sufferers. Specifically, Type-II diabetes (Diabetes mellitus) is related to lifestyle and severely exacerbated by obesity.

This is the result of multiple mechanisms on your insulin. Primarily, over-taxing the system produces insulin resistance, leading to dangerously high blood sugar and unstable metabolic systems.

Prior to causing death, this could also lead to a severe loss of blood to a limb and amputation.

Cellular dangers

Cellular health depends on systems that obesity severely compromises. Both acutely and systemically, cell health changes with the balance of influences in the body.

Cytotoxicity is one of the major risks of obesity but nobody talks about it. Excessive fat in the system produces inflammatory responses in the cells of multiple tissues. The persistent over-action of the immune system leads to early ageing, cell death, and an increase in major cancer risk.

These risks claim millions of lives per year and multiple researches demonstrate that obesity is a major risk of cancer. There are several mechanisms through which obesity increases the risk of cancer, including abnormal cell growth and the interaction between obesity and diabetes.

Metabolic damage

Unfortunately, obesity can be both a cause and/or a symptom of mental health decline. We might reach for the extra snacks for comfort during a period of chronic stress, but obesity makes depression and related symptoms more resilient to treatment!

It’s a factor in many mental health problems, making symptoms more likely, worse, or harder to deal with. Equally, poor mental health accelerates weight gain and metabolic decline.

The hormonal effects of obesity include chronic cortisol increases and declines of ‘counterbalance’ hormones like testosterone in men. These lead to increased incidences of depression, but also negative changes in conditions like emotionally unstable personality disorder (EUPD).

Musculoskeletal risks: joint injury and exercise


There are major musculoskeletal implications for carrying extra weight – any form of non-contractile mass is dangerous to joints. More weight means more impact force on the joints and this causes both injury and arthritis risk.

Excessive body weight is primarily a problem because gaining weight doesn’t prepare joints to deal with more force. Your tendons, ligaments, muscles, and bones are no stronger for the weight you’ve gained if you weren’t exercising!

This is specific to sedentary people. An obese but muscular person, like a strongman, has prepared their joints deliberately. For the rest of us, however, these impact forces lead to more fractures, joint pain, and abnormal joint complications.

This can also be a slippery slope: it’s harder to perform higher-impact exercises like running as weight increases. This can be a major challenge for managing weight (which is more important than current weight!).

Gaining weight becomes a problem when that stops you from losing weight in future.

Other interactions

There are other risks to obesity that we can’t cover in depth – but there’s a lot of medical literature out there. It’s fair to say that excessive body fat puts all your systems under more pressure every day, and that leaves them less able to do their job – exacerbating many conditions.

Other conditions that accelerate or develop with obesity include:

  • Gout

  • PCOS (poly-cystic ovarian syndrome)

  • Arthritis and rheumatism

  • Sleep Apnoea

  • Infertility

  • Liver disease (both fatty and non-fatty liver diseases)

  • Kidney complications and failure

  • Loss of eyesight and balance

  • Degenerative brain disease

  • Acid reflux and heartburn

  • Incontinence

  • Venous stasis disease, clotting, and other blood conditions

  • COPD and asthma

  • Pulmonary disease

  • Erectile dysfunction

The list goes on, and none of them are pleasant. It’s for this total quality of life loss, across dozens or hundreds of conditions, that beating obesity is so important. Not in some abstract way where it saves your life in 20 years (which it could), but also for how it immediately improves your health and quality of life this year.

Final thoughts

Obesity is a sensitive subject, mainly because people might feel powerless due to their inability to control it. The key lies in educating yourself on this topic and making small adjustments.

The most crucial factors in weight loss are:

1. Gaining knowledge about your body’s functioning: energy balance, nutrition, and exercise.

2. Focusing on your personal goals and needs: recognizing that what works for others may not be a perfect fit for you.

3. Take ownership of the process: finding a way to tailor it to your preferences and lifestyle.

Acquiring knowledge about the risks is the initial step, but taking action is the challenging part. We hope that these very real risks serve as the catalyst for your journey, and you can find further guidance on addressing these issues in our other articles.

Want to learn more?

On the Coach Viva channel, Richa and Lucy (Nutritionist and Psychologist) teach people how to lose weight in a healthy, sustainable way.

This video dwells on a healthy weight and fat loss journey and explains how we can boost metabolism in order to stay in a healthy weight range. You will also learn more about NEAT and its role in weight control.

Healthypedia FAQ

Obesity poses significant risks to various body systems, including the heart, lungs, hormones, cells, metabolism, and joints. It increases the likelihood of heart and lung-related deaths, contributes to conditions like coronary heart disease and atherosclerosis, and leads to hormonal dysregulation, diabetes, cancer, mental health issues, and musculoskeletal problems.

No, body weight is not the sole determinant of health. Weight alone doesn't reflect body composition. Excess body fat is associated with obesity, but being muscular and lean can result in a higher weight without negative health consequences. Conversely, normal-weight individuals can have high body fat levels and face similar risks. Focusing on fat loss and body composition is important for improving health, not just weight loss.

Yes, having high body fat levels within the normal weight range, known as 'normal weight obesity' or 'skinny fat,' carries risks. It increases the likelihood of metabolic syndrome, joint injury, and overall morbidity. Body weight alone doesn't guarantee good health; maintaining a healthy body composition is essential for overall well-being.

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