Americans Alarmingly Unaware of Obesity’s Other Risks

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Nutritionists, dietitians and healthcare professionals have been warning their patients about the risks of overeating for decades. And while the increased risks of heart disease and diabetes have figured prominently in these warnings, many patients seem unaware of the many other ways obesity can damage their health.
Tipping the scale above one’s recommended BMI can increase the severity of certain cancers, arthritis, sleep apnea, and infertility. Yet according to a recent poll by the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research, few Americans are aware of these added risks. While 70 percent know that being overweight can increase one’s risk of heart disease and diabetes, only 7 percent were aware of obesity’s increased cancer risk. And just 15 percent knew that obesity can contribute to arthritis, which in turn, reduces one's ability to exercise and thus gain even more weight. In fact, nearly 25 percent believe a person can be substantially overweight and still healthy.


"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. An alarming number of people were unaware that obesity can increase the risk of developing cancers of the colon, breast, prostate and uterus. It’s also harder to spot tumors early and to treat them in obese patients. Few knew of obesity's connection to high blood pressure, high cholesterol and strokes. A scant 5 percent were aware of the respiratory problems caused by obesity, including the increased risk of sleep apnea and asthma.


Many women were totally unaware that being too heavy can lead to infertility. A Nurses' Health Study, which followed 114,000 middle-age women for 14 years, revealed that infertility was lowest in women with BMIs between 20 and 24, and increased with lower and higher BMIs. This study suggests that 25 percent of ovulatory infertility in the U.S. may be linked to obesity. During pregnancy, obesity increases the risk of early and late miscarriage, gestational diabetes, preeclampsia, and complications during labor and delivery.


The more patients understand about obesity and the many problems it can cause, the better. "Most people want to become healthier. It's the know-how, and understanding what the consequences are," said Dimitriou.


According to the AP-NORC Center survey, less than half indicated they had discussed the health risks of obesity with a doctor and about half thought their weight was just about right. Nearly 1 in 8 parents thought their child was overweight. This, in light of the fact that government figures show two-thirds of U.S. adults, and one-third of children and teens, are either overweight or obese.
Nutritionists, dietitians and health care professionals need to become increasingly proactive in warning their patients about the “other” risks of being both obese and even slightly overweight. 


Image courtesy of Surachai/

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  • Alex Kecskes
    Alex Kecskes
    Thanks for your comments. We all need to be aware of what obesity does to the body.
  • Barbara A
    Barbara A
    So it's time to start teaching both children and adults about the risks of being overweight and it would sure help if we were not constantly tempted with unhealthy processed foods! How about making healthy foods less expensive than all the unhealthy junk so many Americans are purchasing?
  • Heidi B
    Heidi B
    As a nurse I did not know the increased risk cancer related to obesity . I am often asked the effects of cardiac conditions and being over wt . Maybe a pamphlet and education for nurses as well as patients would be a good idea .
  • William S
    William S
           Every one has to eat,to a limit. Try to find something better to do then sitting around the feed trough 12 hours a day! You can eat all the fruits and veggies you want,all day. Lay off the fat and garbage! Oh and get off your butts!!!
  • Bridgette D
    Bridgette D
    I really appreciate this article.  Its been a big help to me.  I am going to have bariatric to help me with my obesity
  • Elizabeth W
    Elizabeth W
  • Peggy P
    Peggy P
    Even to my untrained eye, it was shocking to observe how many er admissions were clearly related to obesity issues. Employed in a non medical support role, I worked in 3 hospitals and found this to be curious. Upon admission, patients were always quizzed about tobacco smoking habits.Both verbal counseling and printed educational materials were provided. They were directed to community resources for help to quit.Obviously, all this must have evolved over time as public health issues became documented by research, etc.As I stated, I am untrained in healthcare matters, but am old enough to clearly recall the controversy over the surgeon general's warning being mandated on cigarette packaging.This national health crisis is surely supported byby as much or even more significant data?In the course of my employment, I became acquainted with a nurse manager in the bariatric surgery program.She said the majority of their patients had never discussed the health risks of overweight with their primary care providers.Nor were they educated as to the concepts of BMI, or the levels of overweight, obesity, and morbid obesity. Even taking into account our powerful human capacity for denial, this  underscores  The AP-NORC survey results.The RN offered that this is an area where many healthcare providers dare not tread.Clearly, popular culture, such as "the Biggest Loser" are doing the better job of education via entertainment. A recent episode featured a mock quiz show on the subject of juvenile obesity.It also revealed our denial related to our kids.I hope we evolve a way to educate ER patients with consideration of shame, embarrassment and privacy issues.A small detail in the big picture of a sophisticated problem of our society. Yet. as a point of intercept, it bears serious consideration.
  • Mary F
    Mary F
    Excellent, eye - opening article.Forwarded it to my daughter, who although not obese, can benefit from reading it, and educating her friends.
  • Sherri A
    Sherri A
    Great information! Thank you women need to be made aware of this information!
  • Eileen P
    Eileen P
    This is a fantastic article!  I have worked in the healthcare industry for my adult life.  For 10 years I have worked with orthopedic surgeons and pain management doctors.  In all of those years, I have heard thousands of stories from patients who are overweight or obese and this condition leads to lack of activity, poor sleep patterns, bad body mechanics and spinal issues.  I understand that when you're in pain you don't feel like moving, but our society needs to recognize that we are in a vicious cycle with obesity and physical activity which the body obviously needs.  Thanks for the article!  
  • Lisa W
    Lisa W
    Thank you for this information,. I am 52 and have Diabetis and arthritis. I need help on what I can eat to loose weight and be healthy.
  • Pamela O
    Pamela O
    In addition to what has been stated, bladder prolapse can result from being overweight as well. A type of hernia, this can effect a woman for the rest of her life.

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