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Health risks associated with obesity

Around two-thirds of adults in England are overweight or obese. Carrying many excess pounds increases a person's risk of serious health problems, including:

Doctors generally agree that the more obese a person is the more likely he or she is to have health problems. People who are 20% or more overweight can gain significant health benefits from losing weight. Many obesity experts believe that people who are less than 20% above their healthy weight should still try to lose weight if they have any of the following risk factors:

  • Family history of certain chronic diseases. People with close relatives who have had heart disease or diabetes are more likely to develop these problems if they are obese or overweight.
  • Pre-existing medical conditions. High blood pressure, high cholesterol levels, and high blood sugar levels are all warning signs of different obesity-associated diseases.
  • 'Apple' shape. People whose weight is concentrated around their waist may be at greater risk of developing heart disease, diabetes, and cancer than people of the same weight who are "pear-shaped" who carry their weight in their hips and bottoms.

Fortunately, even a modest weight loss of 4.5kg to 9kg can bring significant health improvements, such as lowering blood pressure and cholesterol levels.

How is obesity linked to heart disease and stroke?

Heart disease and stroke are the leading causes of death and disability for people in the UK. Overweight people are twice as likely to have high blood pressure - a major risk factor for heart disease and stroke - than people who are not overweight. Very high blood levels of cholesterol can also lead to heart disease and are often linked to being overweight. Being overweight also contributes to angina - chest pain caused by decreased oxygen to the heart - and sudden death from heart disease or stroke without any signs or symptoms.

The good news is that losing a small amount of weight can reduce your chances of developing heart disease or a stroke.

How is obesity linked to diabetes?

Type 2 diabetes reduces your body's ability to control blood sugar. It is a major cause of early death, heart disease, stroke and blindness. Overweight people are more than twice as likely to develop type 2 diabetes compared to average weight people. You can reduce your risk of developing type 2 diabetes by losing weight and exercising more. If you have type 2 diabetes, losing weight and becoming more physically active can help control your blood sugar levels. Increasing your physical activity may also allow you to reduce the amount of diabetes medication you need.

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