Health and weight

Health problems associated with being overweight

There are many health problems that can affect an overweight young person including:
  • Asthma
  • Arthritis
  • Deformity of the lower legs (Blount’s disease)
  • Sleep apnoea (a person temporarily stops breathing during sleep)
  • High blood pressure
  • Fatty liver
  • Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) where cysts form in the ovaries
  • Menstrual (period) problems
  • Insulin resistance meaning that the body becomes resistant to insulin, the hormone that controls the amount of sugar in the blood.
  • Type 2 diabetes
The young people we talked to understood that being overweight was bad for their bodies and shared some of the health problems they had experienced.
Moving around 
Many young people said that they felt tired, uncomfortable and out of breath. They said that  the extra weight put pressure on their bodies, especially on the bones and joints of their legs. A few, like Loz, noticed that their asthma got worse after they put on weight.
Diabetes type 2, cholesterol, heart disease
Some young people mentioned that one or both of their parents were affected by diabetes type 2, high cholesterol or heart disease. Doctors were concerned that these young people could develop these conditions too, so were testing them regularly. Several had a high risk of developing Type 2 diabetes and one girl was being treated for high cholesterol while another had a suspected kidney disease. These young people know that it is crucial for them to get their weight down to a healthy level and keep it there.
Those young people with parents or relatives who had been diagnosed with weight-related conditions had already seen how these medical conditions had affected their relative’s life. For example, the need to manage the condition (self-management), through diet, exercise and medication and what happens when the illnesses are not properly controlled.
Parents also worried about the possible health problems their children can have as a consequence of being overweight. Type 2 diabetes could be a particular concern when there was a history of the condition in their family.
 
Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) 
Several young women told us that they had a condition called Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS). This is a condition that can affect some overweight girls causing them to miss periods or not get their periods at all. PCOS is associated with insulin resistance where the body stops reacting to insulin; the hormone which controls the amount of sugar in our blood.  Insulin resistance can cause weight gain make it difficult to lose weight. Developing insulin resistance could also be a sign of Type 2 diabetes. 
Other health issues
Being overweight may also affect your health in other ways. Rachael broke her leg when she landed awkwardly on top of it and still wonders whether if she had been thinner the pressure wouldn’t have been enough to break her leg.
 
Treatment for medical conditions
Being overweight can make it difficult to be diagnosed or treated for a health condition. If an operation is needed, being overweight might cause difficulties during or after the surgery. Gemma had problems waking up from her anaesthetic and she needed help with her breathing.
Several young people were scared about the impact of being overweight on their health. They were worried about going to bed at night and not waking up; of developing serious illnesses; of being on long term medication; and of having to change their lifestyle, among other concerns.
Several young people said that there is a side to obesity that is related to emotions and mental health but it is not recognised. They said that anorexia and other eating disorders have been described as mental health issues but that being overweight is normally seen as a physical problem. On the other hand, those with experiences of eating disorders were keen to draw attention to the physical results of their condition.
Last reviewed February 2015.

Last updated February 2012.

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