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Secret Side Effects of Obesity, Says Science

These dangers aren't as obvious as a number on the scale.

Some side effects of obesity are more obvious than others. It's easy to avoid stepping on the scale, but it's not as simple to ignore the fact that your clothes are getting tighter. But many of obesity's effects are more subtle—excess weight strains your heart, brain, and other body symptoms in ways that aren't always visible until it's too late. These are some of the secret side effects of obesity scientific studies have found. Read on to find out more—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You May Have Already Had COVID.


You've Become Diabetic or Pre-Diabetic

Doctor making blood sugar test in clinic for diabetes

Obesity can cause you to have an elevated A1C—a test for diabetes and prediabetes that measures your average blood glucose (sugar) level over the last three months. That's not something you'll know unless your doctor tests for it. Not everyone with obesity will have an elevated A1C, but obesity is a major risk factor for diabetes and its negative consequences (which can include heart disease, stroke, blindness, and amputation).

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You've Developed Fat In This Area

Obese woman at a carnival

Anyone who's gained weight knows that fat often doesn't distribute itself equally throughout the body. And that's more than an aesthetic concern. Excess body weight can collect in specific areas that can be dangerous, even deadly. That's according to a new study which found that excess pericardial fat—fat in the area around the heart—doubled the risk of heart failure in women, and raised it in men by 50%.

The scientists found that having excess pericardial fat raised the risk of heart failure in both women and men—even after adjusting for well-known risk factors for heart failure such as age, tobacco use, alcohol consumption, a sedentary lifestyle, high blood pressure, high blood sugar, high cholesterol, and previous heart attacks. 

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Or You've Developed Fat In This Area

Man with large stomach

Belly fat—also known as visceral fat—nestles around internal organs lower than the heart, such as the liver, stomach, and intestines. But it's also very dangerous for your health. According to the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health, belly fat is very metabolically active, meaning, "It releases fatty acids, inflammatory agents, and hormones that ultimately lead to higher LDL cholesterol, triglycerides, blood glucose, and blood pressure." That means a higher risk of heart disease, diabetes, and other health problems that can be fatal.

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You're Ruining Your Brain

Mature redhead woman

We don't often connect weight to brain health, unless we're bemoaning our willpower to resist sugar and simple carbs. But obesity is a major risk factor for dementia. A 2020 study published in the International Journal of Epidemiology and supported by the National Institute on Aging found that people who had a BMI corresponding with overweight or obesity were more likely to develop dementia. Several previous studies had found a similar association. Want to reduce the risk? You have the power. "Obesity, like cardiovascular disease and stroke, is a modifiable risk factor for dementia since it generally can be countered through lifestyle changes such as diet and exercise," says the NIA.

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You're Increasing Your Risk of Mental Illness

Full-figured young woman in a pink shirt feeling depressed

A review of studies published in the Archives of General Psychiatry found that obesity can increase the risk of depression, and being depressed can increase your risk of becoming obese. Depression may cause people to engage in unhealthy behaviors such as overeating, avoiding physical activity, or drinking too much alcohol, which can lead to obesity, worsening depression. To reduce your risk, mind both your physical and mental health—your healthcare provider can advise you on the right steps to take, including a balanced diet, regular exercise, and mental health care. And to get through this pandemic at your healthiest, don't miss these 35 Places You're Most Likely to Catch COVID.

Michael Martin
Michael Martin is a New York City-based writer and editor. Read more about Michael
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