3.7.2. Risks of High Body Fat

Diseases Associated with Excessive Body Fat

According to the U.S. National Institute of Health (NIH), a wide array of diseases can be linked to excessive body fat.[1]

These diseases include the following:

  • type II diabetes mellitus
  • hypertension
  • cancer
  • cerebrovascular disease (stroke)
  • cardiovascular disease
  • metabolic syndrome
  • lung disorders (such as sleep apnea and asthma)
  • musculoskeletal diseases (such as osteoarthritis and gout)
  • gallbladder disease
  • pancreatitis
  • non-alcohol fatty liver disease
  • dementia
  • psychological problems and quality of life issues
  • kidney disease
  • pregnancy problems

An explanation of how being overweight relates to each disease can be viewed by clicking on the following link.

NIH-Explanation of Disease Risk Associated with Overweight

How Much Fat is Needed?

Fat is a necessary component of daily nutrition. It is needed for healthy cellular function, energy, cushioning for vital organs, insulation, and for food flavor.

Fat storage in the body consists of two types of fat: essential and nonessential fat. Essential fat is the minimal amount of fat necessary for normal physiological function. Fat above the minimal amount is referred to as nonessential fat. It is generally accepted that an overall range of (approximately) 11-20 percent for men and (approximately) 16-30 percent for women is considered good health. A body composition within the recommended range suggests a person has less risk of developing obesity-related diseases, such as diabetes, high blood pressure, and even some cancers.

A woman’s essential fat range is naturally greater than a man’s because of fat deposits in breasts, uterus and sex-specific sites. In both males and females, non-essential fat reserves can be healthy, especially in providing substantial amounts of energy.

Excessive body fat is categorized by the terms overweight and obesity. These terms do not implicate social status or physical attractiveness, but rather indicate health risks. Overweight is defined as the accumulation of non-essential body fat to the point that it adversely affects health. Overweight is classified as a BMI of 25-29.9 kg/m2.

Obesity is characterized by excessive accumulation of body fat and can be defined as a more serious degree of being overweight. Classifications of obesity begin at a BMI of 30 kg/m2 in both males and females.[2]

Other Health Risks

Diseases are not the only concern with an unhealthy level of body fat. Several others are listed below.

Performance of Physical Activity. An important component of a healthy lifestyle and weight management is regular physical activity and exercise. To the contrary, those who live a sedentary lifestyle will find it more difficult to maintain a healthy body weight or develop adequate musculature, endurance, and flexibility. Unfortunately, additional body weight makes it more difficult to be active because it requires more energy and places a higher demand on weak muscles and the cardiovascular system. The result is a self-perpetuating cycle of inactivity leading to more body weight, which leads to more inactivity.

Emotional Wellness. Studies indicate obesity is associated with a 25% increase in anxiety and mood disorders, regardless of age or gender. Other studies suggest increases in BMI significantly increase the incidence of personality disorders and anxiety and mood disorders. Additional studies have been able to associate a higher incidence of psychological disorders and suicidal tendencies in obese females compared with obese males.[3]

Premature Death. The association between obesity and diseases, such as cancer, CVD, and diabetes, suggests that people with more body fat generally have shorter lifespans. The U.S. Center for Disease Control (CDC) estimated between 1997-2000 up to 365,000 deaths each year can be linked with obesity, representing nearly 15% of all deaths. Other studies have tied the Years of Life Lost to body mass index measurements, estimating anywhere from 2 to 20 years can be lost, depending on ethnicity, age at time of obese classification, and gender.[4]

Economic Impact. The physical harm caused by obesity and overweight is mirrored by its economic impact on the health care system. Overweight and obesity also contribute to loss of productivity at work through absenteeism and presenteeism, defined as being less productive while working. The annual U.S. nationwide productivity costs fall within the range of from $3.38 to $6.38 billion.[5]

  1. https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/weight-management/health-risks-overweight?dkrd=hispt0908
  2. https://www.unm.edu/~lkravitz/Article%20folder/underbodycomp.html
  3. Knight, J. Diseases and Disorders Associated with Excess Body Weight, Annals of Clinical Laboratory Science, Spring 2011, vol. 41 no.2 107-121, http://www.annclinlabsci.org/content/41/2/107.full
  4. .Pollack, L. M., & Colditz, G. A. Life Years Lost Associated with Obesity-Related Diseases for U.S. Non-Smoking Adults, 2013, PLoS ONE, 8(6), e66550, http://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0066550
  5. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Retrieved Jan 2018, CDC: Adult Obesity Causes and Consequences https://www.cdc.gov/obesity/adult/causes.html


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Fundamentals of Health and Physical Activity by Kerri Z. Delaney and Leslie Barker is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.