Diseases Linked to Obesity
· Cardiovascular disease – this is any disease which affects the heart or associated blood vessels (veins and arteries). Excessive amounts of cholesterol in the blood is a major contributing factor to cardiovascular disease, therefore the first priority of anyone suffering from this should be to lower their cholesterol level. To do this someone should decrease the amount of saturated fats in their diet and increase poly- and mono-saturated fats which can help to lower blood cholesterol levels. This person would also benefit from reducing sodium (salt) in their diet and should look to increase their consumption of potassium, calcium and fibre rich foods.
· Respiratory Disorders – this is any disorder or disease which affects the lungs or airways thus affecting how much air passes into the blood. An example linked to obesity and being overweight is sleep apnoea, which is when breathing is interrupted by the tissues and muscles of the throat relaxing thus blocking the normal flow of air to the lungs. The best way to treat this condition is to lose weight by following an achievable weight loss plan – don’t snack late at night, use fresh fruit or vegetables as a snack during the day, be aware of portion size – are all suggestions to help the person achieve their weight loss target. The sufferer should also avoid alcohol and smoking too.
· Digestive Disorders – this is any disorder of the digestive tract (from mouth to anus) and the associated organs. Common digestive disorders include diarrhoea, constipation, indigestion, peptic ulcers, Crohn’s disease, Coeliac disease, gall stones, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and gastro-oesophageal reflux disease (GORD). Someone who is obese is very likely to suffer from GORD – when acidic stomach juices are regurgitated into the oesophagus and leading to indigestion. The main causes of GORD are poor strength of the oesophageal sphincter (the ring of muscle at the end of the oesophagus at the opening of the stomach) and increased pressure on the stomach as a result of being obese. In this condition, it is important for the sufferer to follow a low-fat eating plan as high fat meals tends to decrease sphincter pressure, thus opening the sphincter and exposing the oesophagus to stomach juices.
· Urinary Disorders – this is any disorder which affects the kidneys, bladder, and associated vessels, ureters and urethra, the ‘tubes’ which link the kidneys to the bladder and the bladder to the site of excretion from the body. There are no clear direct links between obesity and Urinary disorders; however, kidney failure is often linked with diabetes or high blood pressure and these are linked closely with obesity. Urinary incontinence becomes a common and often distressing problem for obese people. Difficulty with bladder control often leads to depression and an unwillingness to be active (or far from a toilet), thus causing a cycle of events possibly leading to further eating – remember depression was a reason people turn to food in the first place.
· Bone and Joint Disorders – this is any disorder affecting bones and joints either leaving them weak, less dense and brittle, or making joints inflamed and sore. Common bone and joint disorders include osteoporosis, osteomalacia and rickets and arthritic conditions. Osteoarthritis (OA) is commonly linked to obesity. This is a non-age related degenerative disease – degeneration of the joints, specifically cartilage which covers the ends of bones (within joints) and causes the bones to rubs together when moving. Generally this leads to swelling, stiffness and pain. Obese people experience this normally in their knee and hip joints as a result of the pressure upon them.
· Diabetes – this is a condition which affects how the body uses carbohydrates for energy resulting in abnormally high blood sugar levels. Blood sugar levels are normally controlled by the hormone insulin which is produced by the pancreas. Sometimes when the body cannot make enough insulin (insulin resistance) and so blood sugar levels to rise. This can be dangerous. Serious long-term complications include cardiovascular disease, chronic kidney failure, eye damage, nerve damage, and damage to blood capillaries, which may cause erectile dysfunction in men and poor wound healing. Poor healing of wounds, particularly of the feet, can lead to gangrene, and possibly to amputation in extreme cases. Being obese increases the risk of developing diabetes as the body cannot make enough insulin to keep blood sugar levels normal. Losing weight can improve insulin resistance and help to correct and maintain blood sugar levels.
· Cancer – this is a group of diseases characterised by the uncontrolled growth and spread of abnormal cells throughout the body. Cancer risk is influenced by external and internal factors, e.g. tobacco smoke or genetics. Someone’s physical state (age, weight, diet) all influence the likelihood of developing cancer. Scientific evidence, from Australian based research; shows approximately one-fifth of deaths from cancer are associated with poor nutrition and/or physical inactivity – leading to obesity. The research which was carried out on 900, 000 people, men and women, shows that if the person had a BMI greater than 40 i.e. they were classed as obese/morbidly obese, there was an increase of at least 52% in the death rate being caused by cancer. Sensible food choices and good nutrition are central to avoiding or preventing cancer – the advice is not new. Cut down on fatty foods to avoid the risk of increasing weight and obesity and instead reach for fruit and vegetables. These are beneficial as the contain phytochemicals (plant derived chemical compounds) which have been proved to fight cancer. For example, some phytochemicals protect DNA from damage and promotes repair of damaged DNA (damaged DNA leads to abnormal cells and cell division). The World Cancer Research Fund has estimated nearly 20% of cancers can be prevented by eating at least 5 portions of fruit and vegetables every day.
Learn about Nutrition and Weight Control with ACS. This is a selection of the courses we offer; click on the course title for further details.
Nutrition For Weight Loss
Weight Loss Consultant
Human Nutrition I
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(all written by our academic staff)
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