Over two-thirds of adults are considered overweight or obese according to the National Institutes of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Consequently, this may be the first generation in modern history where the younger generation has a shorter life expectancy than the older generation.
This is because there's more to obesity than a penchant for ice cream and a lack of motivation to go to the gym. Overweight adults are also much more prone to disease.
Dr. Daniel Cottam, a weight-loss surgeon with Salt Lake Regional Medical Center, listed Type 2 diabetes, sleep apnea and high blood pressure as the most common diseases linked with obesity.
Type 2 diabetes
Unlike Type 1 diabetes where a person's body produces little or no insulin, those with Type 2 diabetes produce insulin but their bodies are unable to use it. This leads to dangerously high blood sugar levels which can cause damage to organs and tissue throughout the body. Obesity and genetics are considered the top causes of the onset of Type 2 diabetes.
Contrary to popular belief, however, obesity-linked Type 2 diabetes can be cured through lifestyle changes and dietary controls. When a person has a BMI of 50 or more, Dr. Cottam says one surgical option he gives his patients is a duodenal switch, which he has found to have the highest Type 2 diabetes resolution rate, with as many as 90 percent of patients reporting no recurrence one year, five years and even 10 years post-surgery.
Though there are a variety of causes of sleep apnea, obesity is the most common cause of sleep apnea in adults. "During sleep, when throat and tongue muscles are more relaxed, soft tissue (of the mouth and throat) can cause the airway to become blocked," explains WebMD. This results in periods of 10 seconds or more where a person ceases breathing. This cessation leads to frequent waking during the night, cardiovascular disease and premature death.
Losing weight reduces the amount of soft tissue that can collapse during sleep. It also allows a person to move and adjust more easily when sleep apnea does occur, meaning they're less likely to experience prolonged periods of oxygen loss.
High blood pressure
A quarter of hypertensive cases of men and women stem from excess weight gain. When fatty tissue prevents cardiovascular tissue from pumping the way it should, a person's blood pressure rises and the heart, in turn, must work harder to pump blood through the body. This, in turn, makes the person more prone to cardiovascular disease.
"Hypertension is the most common reason for office visits of non-pregnant adults to their physicians and for the use of prescription drugs," according to the Obesity Action Coalition.
Additional obesity-linked diseases
Besides these most common diseases, a link has been found between occurrences of breast, uterine, esophageal, pancreas cancers and heart disease, and strokes and having an elevated BMI. The more elevated a patient's BMI is and the longer it remains high, the more health-related problems he or she is likely to have.
On the other hand, Dr. Cottam points out, the sooner a person is able to lose weight and maintain a healthy BMI the less complications he or she will suffer. Similar to the studies that have shown a person's lung capacity improves within days of a person quitting smoking, a person's risk of disease drops with every pound shed.
Weight-loss options vary based on degree of obesity
To aid in weight loss, Dr. Cottam suggests a graduated approach based on the BMI of his patient. "if they're 50 pounds or less overweight," he explained, "dietary and lifestyle modifications are important. Cut out sugar and refined carbs and increase aerobic exercise until they're getting 30 minutes a day five days a week."
For those who are 50 to 80 pounds overweight, he recommends appetite suppression medications which can help them feel full while eating less food. This paired with exercise and nutrition should help the patient achieve an optimal BMI.
Being more than 80 pounds overweight poses a bigger challenge to weight loss, however. Those who have reached this level of obesity tend to have environmental as well as hereditary factors that have contributed to their weight gain. At this point, Dr. Cottam usually suggests the patient undergo a surgical treatment such as sleeve gastrectomy, gastric bypass or duodenal switch, any of which will help reduce the amount of food the person can eat at a time, aid in appetite suppression and possibly resolve diagnoses of Type 2 diabetes.
For more information on weight loss treatments or to schedule an appointment with Dr. Cottam, visit saltlakeregional.com or fill out the form below.
(In the app and can't see the quiz? Click here.)