Health Risks Linked to Obesity

Medically Reviewed by Melinda Ratini, MS, DO on January 04, 2023
3 min read

Obesity is a chronic condition. It is generally defined as when you have a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or higher. This condition puts you at risk of having diseases such as:

  • Heart disease and stroke
  • High blood pressure
  • Diabetes
  • Some cancers
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Gout
  • Depression
  • Obstructive sleep apnea

Not everyone who has obesity has these conditions. The risk rises if you have a family history or other risk factors for one of these conditions.

Body mass index (BMI) is just one measure used to define obesity, but where your excess body fat is located also matters. If it's mostly around your stomach (the "apple" shape), that may be riskier than if you have a "pear" shape, meaning that your extra weight is mostly around your hips and buttocks.

Here's a closer look at seven conditions that are linked to having obesity.

Having obesity makes you more likely to have high blood pressure and high cholesterol. Both of those conditions make heart disease or stroke more likely.

With treatment, you can reduce your chances of developing heart disease or a stroke. Losing even a small amount of weight has its health benefits and has been shown to lower the risk of diseases linked to obesity.

Obesity is a major risk factor for type 2 diabetes . People affected by obesity are about 6 times more likely to have high blood sugar.   If you have obesity, several treatment options are available to help you reduce your risks of developing type 2 diabetes. 

If you have type 2 diabetes, treatments that help you lose any excess weight and become more physically active can help control your blood sugar levels better.

Cancers of the colon, breast (after menopause), endometrium (the lining of the uterus), kidney, and esophagus are linked to obesity. Some studies have also reported links between obesity and cancers of the gallbladder, ovaries, and pancreas. More than 684,000 cancers each year in the U.S.  are related to obesity. As body mass index (BMI) increases, so does your risk of cancer and death from cancer.

Gallbladder disease and gallstones are more common with excess weight.

Ironically, weight loss itself, particularly rapid weight loss or loss of a large amount of weight, can make you more likely to get gallstones. 

Osteoarthritis is a common joint condition that most often affects the knee, hip, or back. Carrying extra pounds places extra pressure on these joints and wears away the cartilage (tissue cushioning the joints) that normally protects them.

Weight loss can ease the stress on the knees, hips, and lower back and may improve the symptoms of osteoarthritis.

Gout is an inflammatory arthritis that happens when you have too much uric acid in your blood. The extra uric acid can form crystals that deposit in the joints and cause pain

Gout is more common in people that have obesity. This may be related to insulin resistance. In fact, the American College of Rheumatology recommends weight loss as part of the treatment of gout in people with obesity. 

If you have a history of gout, check with your doctor for the best way to lose weight.

O bstructive s leep apnea , a narrowing of your airway during sleep, is a breathing condition that's linked to obesity. A higher BMI can be a risk factor for obstructive sleep apnea. More than half of those affected by obesity (around 45 percent) have obstructive sleep apnea (OSA).

Sleep apnea can make it harder to breathe at night, causing a person to snore heavily and to briefly stop breathing during sleep. Sleep apnea may cause daytime sleepiness and make heart disease and stroke more likely.

Weight loss often improves sleep apnea.