What Health Conditions Are Linked to Obesity?

Reviewed by Carol DerSarkissian, MD on June 13, 2020

We all know that our weight plays a big role in our health. Of course, other things -- like how active you are, your waist size, and what conditions run in your family -- also matter a lot.

Still, certain conditions are strongly linked to, or even caused by, obesity. That’s the word that doctors use if your BMI, or body mass index, is 30 or higher. 

If that’s you, remember that you can start to turn things around if you lose even a small amount of weight. Where you are today is just the beginning. Even if you’ve tried before to lose the weight, or lost weight and gained it back, your future health is in your hands. With work and support, you can cut your chances of getting these weight-related conditions.

Heart Disease

A sticky substance called plaque can build up inside your arteries, which are the vessels that carry blood away from your heart. Too much plaque can narrow and eventually block your arteries. This can lead to a heart attack or heart failure.

But there are a lot of things you can do to prevent that.

It starts with a simple blood test to check your cholesterol levels. If you have too much “bad” cholesterol, or LDL, you can change your diet. You can eat less saturated fat (found in animal foods), and more fiber (from plant foods), for instance. Becoming more active will help, too. If that’s not enough, you may also need to take medicines to help turn things around.

High Blood Pressure

As your heart beats, it pumps blood through the walls of your arteries. This creates a force, or pressure. If this pressure is too high and goes unchecked for too long, it can damage other organs, such as your kidneys or brain.

High blood pressure is more likely if you’re overweight or obese. But it also can change, for the better, as you start to take the weight off.


Remember the plaque that built up in your arteries? It can break loose and act as a blood clot, or embolus. As it travels through your bloodstream, it can cause other problems. If it lands in an artery in your heart, that’s a heart attack. If it gets too close to your brain, it can block the flow of oxygen. After just a few minutes without oxygen, brain cells begin to die, causing a stroke.

The same things that help lower your chances of heart disease are also going to make a stroke less likely.

Type 2 Diabetes

People over 40 who are overweight are most at risk for this disease. But younger people -- even kids and teens -- also get it, and extra pounds make it more likely.

If you have type 2 diabetes, your body’s blood sugar level is too high. It doesn’t handle insulin like it should.

Over time, your body starts to resist insulin or can’t make enough of it to control your blood sugar levels. If your blood sugar stays too high for too long, you could get other things, like blindness, infections, and chronic kidney failure.

You’ll want to check with your doctor to find out if your blood sugar level is in the normal range. If you find out that you have prediabetes or diabetes, you’ll want to start treatment right away. You might need to take medicine for it, but if you can lose enough weight through diet and exercise, you may be able to cut back on, or even stop, those medications.

Metabolic Syndrome

This is a combination of conditions that put you at risk for other problems, like heart disease, diabetes, or stroke. For example, you might be overweight, especially around your waistline, and have high blood pressure, high blood sugar, as well as cholesterol problems.

A checkup can tell you if you’re at risk. One simple thing you can do is to use a tape measure to check your waist. If it’s more than 35 inches for women, or more than 40 inches for men, you’re more likely to have weight-related health problems.


There’s a link between obesity and certain cancers, such as breast cancer, colorectal cancer, and cancers of the kidney, pancreas, and thyroid.  Scientists aren’t sure if being overweight actually causes cancer. But they do know that fat feeds the growth of existing cancer cells.

Of course, people who aren’t overweight can get cancer, too. So just like anyone else, it’s important for you to keep up with any cancer tests that your doctor recommends.


You develop this type of arthritis after the tissue that cushions your bones, called cartilage, wears down as you age. Osteoarthritis is painful and most often affects your spine, knees, hands, and hips.

If you’re overweight, the extra pounds put more pressure on your weight-bearing joints. Fat also makes proteins that can cause inflammation.

As you start to lose weight, you’ll feel and move better, and your joints will have less stress.

Sleep Apnea

When you have this sleep disorder, the muscles in the back of your throat can’t keep your throat open while you’re asleep. This makes you stop breathing for seconds at a time.

When you’re overweight, extra fat around your neck could narrow your airway and also affect your breathing.

You might not know that this is happening. If you feel tired a lot and don’t feel more rested after you try simple things like going to bed earlier, tell your doctor. They may send you to a specialist to find out if you have sleep apnea. If you do, there are treatments. And again, it could get better as you lose weight.


Your gallbladder produces bile, a fluid that helps break down the food you eat. Sometimes if there is too much cholesterol in your bile it can harden and form painful “stones.”

Doctors aren’t sure why, but they do know that if you’re overweight or obese, you’re more likely to get gallstones. They may become a thing of your past as you work toward a new size.

Reproductive Issues

Women who are overweight may have irregular periods or skip ovulation. Men might get ED, or erectile dysfunction, or their semen quality might not be as good as it could be.

If you’re a woman who’s been trying to get pregnant and it’s not happening, it’s a good idea to see a doctor. There could be many causes, but if it’s your weight, that’s something that you can start to change.

Men with ED may find that as they get healthier overall, these problems go away. Just as with many of the other conditions on this list, change is possible.

Show Sources


National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute: “What Are the Health Risks of Overweight and Obesity?”

Mayo Clinic: “High Blood Pressure (Hypertension),” “Osteoarthritis,” “Gallstones.”

American Heart Association: “Coronary Artery Disease -- Coronary Heart Disease.”

National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute: “What is a Stroke?”

Cleveland Clinic: “Type 2 Diabetes.”

National Cancer Institute: “Uncovering the Mechanisms Linking Obesity and Cancer Risk.”

National Sleep Foundation: “Sleep Apnea.”

American Society for Reproductive Medicine: “Obesity and Reproduction: A Committee Opinion.”


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