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Obesity Is More Deadly Than Smoking – Here’s Why

A recent study reveals that deaths due to excess body fat and obesity have now overtaken smoking-related deaths in people older than 45. Although the study concentrated on England and Scotland, it raises some troubling implications about the health risks we are -- and are not -- focusing on.

The study credits public health campaigns around the world with successfully creating a stigma around smoking, making it less attractive. Meanwhile, obesity rates are climbing, putting people at higher risk for many deadly diseases, including cancer and heart issues.

Cancer and Cardiovascular Disease

There are many reasons your risk of cancer rises if you’re obese, and several types of cancer for which you can be at risk., including:

  • Breast and endometrial cancer: Extra fat in the body can cause excess secretion of estrogen, which in turn can lead to breast cancer and endometrial cancer.

  • Colon cancer: Obese patients also face an increased risk of colon cancer, because obesity often is linked to an unhealthy diet that includes high-fat foods and red meat.

  • Esophageal and gastrointestinal cancers: Obesity also can lead to a heightened risk of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) —heartburn — that can cause esophageal cancer.

Heart problems also are common in obese individuals, as excess fat affects a host of other issues, including:

  • High blood pressure

  • High cholesterol

  • Plaque buildup in blood vessels

These cardiovascular concerns all make your heart work overtime. Think about how you might feel after carrying around a 50-pound dumbbell for a few minutes. Your heart would be pumping hard to keep up with the extra weight. That extra stress on your heart can lead to heart failure, too.

What’s more, obesity also can contribute to Type 2 Diabetes. The silent killer often remains invisible until your body is in crisis.

Obese patients are at a greater risk for various illnesses simply because the extra pounds put the body in a chronic inflammatory state, weakening the immune system and leaving it less able to fight off infection or disease.

Men at Higher Risk

Although women are more likely to be obese, men are more likely to die from obesity-related disease – a surprising finding confirmed in the study. Although there’s no general medical consensus as to why this is, it could be because of weight distribution in men versus women.

Women tend to have higher body fat percentages, but their body fat is concentrated in the arms, hips and thighs. In obese men, however, the body fat tends to around the abdomen. Higher waist circumference is directly linked to instances of cardiovascular disease.

Tracking and Treating Obesity

Obesity is a complex disease, and in many cases it isn’t just a matter of calories in and calories out. Genetics is one factor that can make a difference. Scientists studying the microbiome in the bowels of mice have seen that mice with a certain type of gut flora tend to gain weight more easily than others, suggesting the same might be true of humans.

But the old rules still hold. Cutting back on refined carbohydrates and exercising more helps with weight loss. If it doesn’t, and you have a significant amount of weight to lose, you may want to discuss bariatric surgery with your doctor. Surgery isn’t a cure-all, but it can go hand in hand with other healthy practices that lead to weight loss.


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