You know the consequences of weighing way too much—an increased risk for heart disease and stroke, diabetes and osteoarthritis. Not to mention the toll excess weight takes on your self-esteem and quality of life. If that isn’t enough, researchers are continuing to uncover more risks associated with obesity. “The mechanisms that make us obese also impact other physical diseases in ways we may not yet understand and in some that we do,” says Dr. Martin Binks, a spokesperson for The Obesity Society and clinical director of Binks Behavioral Health in Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina. Here, new findings on the risks of obesity—and a bit of hope for those who suffer from it.
Obesity raises your risk for memory loss. More and more studies are finding an association between weighing too much and dementia. In a study published in the journal Neurology, Swedish researchers reported that people who were overweight (BMI between 25 and 30) or obese (BMI over 30) in midlife had an 80 percent increased risk for dementia, Alzheimer’s disease or vascular dementia down the road. (Find your BMI here http://spryliving.com/articles/bmi-calculator/.)
Obesity can complicate a case of the flu.If you’re obese and catch the H1NI flu strain, you’re probably going to be sicker than your leaner counterpart, says a recent study. “Obesity is related to overall poor health,” Binks says. That could explain why after analyzing data on more than 80,000 cases of H1N1, researchers found that obesity was as much a risk factor for a serious case of H1N1 as was asthma, diabetes or chronic cardiac disease. Indeed, obese people accounted for 6 percent of people who were hospitalized, 11 percent admitted to the ICU and 12 who died as a result of the flu.
Obesity can lead to a lousy sex life. Obese people have “significant difficulties with sexual quality of life, both in the ability to achieve orgasm and the willingness to seek new sexual partners.” Binks says. French researchers recently took a look at the association between BMI and sexual activity and satisfaction in 12,364 men and women ages 18 to 69. What they found: Obese women were less likely than women of normal weight to have had a sexual partner during the previous 12 months; obese men were less likely to have had more than one partner and more apt to have experienced erectile dysfunction.
Obesity can increase your risk of infection during pregnancy. Pregnant women who are obese may be less able to fight infections than leaner women and that can spell trouble for both mother and baby. Researchers at the Mother Infant Research Institute at Tufts Medical Center in Boston tested the blood of 30 pregnant women for cells and cell proteins that fight infection. Half the women had a normal body mass index (BMI) of 20 to 25 before they became pregnant; and half were obese, with BMI greater than 30. The upshot: The obese women had fewer infection-fighting cytotoxic T cells and naïve cells. Why worry? Pregnant women are at increased risk for infections, including chorioamnionitis—an infection of the membranes around the fetus as well as the amniotic fluid.
You don’t have to get skinny to reduce obesity-related health risks. Losing weight can greatly mitigate problems associated with obesity—but you don’t have to starve yourself to make a big difference. “Reducing your weight by as little as five percent can lead to reasonable improvements in a variety of health conditions,” Binks says.