Is Obesity Costing You Your Quality of Life?

Nearly 35 percent of adults in American are obese, according to the Journal of the American Medical Association’s 2011-2012 survey. Former U.S. Surgeon General Regina Benjamin called the prevalence of obesity in the country an epidemic that “…threatens the historic progress we have made in increasing American’s quality and years of healthy life.” Researchers at McGill University in Montreal provide evidence that the Surgeon General is not overstating the problem.

Dr. Stephen Grover and his research team examined the relationship between body weight and life expectancy. Their study, published in the Dec. 4, 2014 issue of The Lancet Diabetes and Endocrinology, found that being overweight or obese could potentially shorten an individual’s life by up to eight years. Additionally, diseases associated with obesity were found to have a significant impact on the quality of life, particularly the final two decades of life, as overweight individuals suffer from obesity-related illnesses as they age.

"In terms of life-expectancy, we feel being overweight is as bad as cigarette smoking." — Steven Grover, M.D., Research Institute of the McGill University Health Centre

How is obesity defined?

Body Mass Index (BMI) is the most widely used measure of obesity. BMI calculators or charts determine body fat percentage based on an individual’s height and weight. They are not perfect measures.  BMI calculators do not factor in muscle mass or bone density, so that a muscular athlete may show a high BMI, yet still be quite fit.  For weight classification purposes, most individuals may use the following chart:

 Body Mass Index Scale

  • Underweight: less than 18.5
  • Normal weight: 18.5 - 25
  • Overweight: 25 - 30
  • Obesity, level I: 30 – 34.5
  • Obesity, level II: 35-39.9
  • Morbid obesity, level III: 40 and greater

 Waist circumference is an additional measurement commonly used to determine an individual’s risk of suffering obesity-related diseases. A waist measurement in excess of 40 inches for men and 35 inches for women puts the individual in a high-risk category, even those who are not considered overweight.

Physical health problems associated with obesity

Obesity is a factor in a host of medical conditions. Fat cells, particularly those stored in the belly, secrete hormones that trigger inflammation, which affects how the body responds to insulin. This eventually can lead to type 2 diabetes and its complications such as kidney disease, lower limb amputation, and blindness. Obesity also contributes to the development of hypertension, cardiovascular disease, stroke, gallbladder disease, sleep apnea, osteoarthritis, respiratory problems as well as certain cancers.

Obesity affects reproductive health. For women, obesity can negatively affect their ability to conceive and to respond to fertility treatments. Obesity also increases the risk of miscarriage. For men, the frequency of erectile dysfunction increases with increases in body mass.

 Psychological and social problems

A National Center for Health Statistics data brief suggests a link between obesity and depression. An analysis of data collected between 2005 and 2010 found that adults suffering depression were more likely to be obese than adults without depression. While the study could not show which came first, obesity or depression, it suggests a two-way street, with depression increasing one’s risk of becoming obese and behaviors that lead to obesity also contributing to depression. In a culture that admires thinness, overweight individuals often feel isolated, suffer lack of self-value and may be discriminated against in the job market.

The good news is that even losing a few pounds can improve one’s overall health and mood. A modest 5-percent loss of weight (10 pounds for a 200-pound individual) can lower cholesterol, blood sugar and blood pressure levels. This small success can kick-start a program of lifestyle changes that can lead to significant and sustained weight loss.

What is the best way to lose weight?

The answer to this will be different for everyone. The sale of weight-loss products and services are a multi-billion dollar industry in the U.S. The Federal Trade Commission has cracked down on many weight-loss product promoters for making fraudulent claims about their products. There is no miracle pill or shake that will “melt away the pounds.” For most, losing weight is a matter taking in fewer calories and expending more energy. A 3,500-calorie deficit will result in the loss of one pound.

The best way to reduce calories in a diet will depend on the individual’s personal preferences, which often come from his or her culture. A study published in the September 2014 Journal of the American Medical Association found no difference in results between popular low-fat diets and popular low-carbohydrate diets. The best diet is the one the dieter can stick with and make part of an overall lifestyle change. Consider your new, healthy way of eating not as a temporary diet, but a new eating plan for life. Adding physical activity will speed up weight loss and increase the dieter’s sense of wellness.

One success story

Fredericksburg, Texas writer Taylor Rios says she began her weight-loss journey because “I didn’t like the way I looked in photos. I was also starting to have problems with my ankles, knees and back. I felt awful all of the time and wanted to change that. ” She struggled at first, failing at attempts with low-calorie, then low-fat and even vegetarian diets. She eventually found a low-carbohydrate diet that worked for her. It was hard at first, but over time it became easier and she was able to drop 70 pounds. Taylor now helps others achieve their fitness goals by publishing her healthy recipes online.

One trick Taylor used was allowing herself a “cheat day” one day a week. It served as a reward for sticking to her eating plan the other six days. “Eventually, sugar-loaded foods didn’t appeal to me anymore,” Taylor says. She also started working out every morning, noting that even five minutes of exercise is better than none at all.

“My advice is to keep at it no matter how many times you stumble,” says Taylor. “People don't have to go on a drastic diet like I did to lose weight. Just replacing soda with water or replacing one meal with a vegetable-based recipe can make a huge difference. Exercise is very important; not only will it help speed up your metabolism and burn calories, but you will feel so good after a workout.”