Why Is Being Overweight So Bad For Your Health?

It’s important to understand that perceptions about weight and obesity are not simply appearance issues. Being overweight or obese has serious health implications. Most people are aware that excess weight can make the body more susceptible to diabetes, stroke, certain cancers and heart disease. However, there are plenty of other health risks that many people don’t consider. Excess weight puts unnecessary stress on the entire body. It can affect breathing, joints, sleep, energy levels and mood. The reality is that being overweight or obese will impact the overall quality of life.

According the World Health Organisation (WHO), rates of obesity have doubled worldwide since 19901. WHO 2008 statistics identified over 1.4 billion adults as overweight. In 2010, more than 40 million children younger than 5 were classed as overweight.

The UK is following global trends. Results from the recent Health Survey for England show that the prevalence of obesity has tripled within the last 25 years. Almost 63 percent of adults are considered overweight or obese, while just over 30 percent of children are classed as overweight or obese2. However, these trends can be reversed, as this is a preventable condition.

What Defines Overweight & Obese

Obese and overweight are defined as excessive or abnormal fat accumulation that has the potential to impair health. The most common measure for obesity and overweight is body mass index (BMI). This calculates a persons’ weight and divides it by their height to determine BMI. A BMI equal or greater than 25 is considered overweight, and a BMI equal or greater than 30 is considered obese.

However, there are some shortcomings in the BMI measurement when it comes to determining if someone is overweight or obese. BMI only measures relative weight and doesn’t distinguish between muscle mass and fat mass. Consequently, a person may be classed as overweight, yet they have little bodyfat and the excess weight can be attributed to muscle mass.

Another factor BMI doesn’t account for is body shape. Individuals with the classic apple-shape accumulate fat around the mid-section and are often more prone to weight related diseases. In contrast, a pear-shaped body stores more weight peripherally and is at less risk. Two people with the same BMI can have very different body shapes and thus, their risks of disease and premature mortality also vary.

While BMI is certainly a useful tool to measure large populations, individual characteristics and lifestyle must also be considered. Measuring bodyfat is a better indicator of the health of an individual. There are a number of methods used to measure bodyfat, although the most common approach is to use skin fold callipers to measure the thickness of a skin fold in key locations. It can provide an accurate calculation of total body fat.

There is no single ideal or correct percentage of bodyfat as it varies with a number of factors such as genetics, age and sex. An individual may benefit from a lower or higher bodyweight than another individual of the same sex and age. Also, an athletes’ ideal bodyfat may vary depending on the sport they are involved in. For example, runners tend to perform better with a lower percentage of bodyfat when compared with swimmers. Nevertheless, there are some general guidelines.

Based on averages, for men 30 or younger, the ideal bodyfat percentage is between 9 and 15 percent. Between the age of 30 and 50, it’s 15 to 23 percent and 12 to 19 percent for men aged over 50. For women under 30, 14 to 21 percent is considered good; between 30 and 50 the ideal bodyfat percentage is 15 to 23 percent, and 16 to 25 percent over 50 years of age. It’s important to note that these percentages provide a rough guide and they can vary depending on the authority that devises the recommendations.

With the number of serious health issues associated with being overweight and obese, it’s not surprising that people are trying to lose weight and improve their health. Many people turn to fad diets to lose weight. However, these don’t necessarily work or address the problem. The health of an individual is influenced by the body’s ratio of fat to muscle, instead of overall body weight3. This is why it’s important to consider muscle mass as well as fat mass in any effort to become healthier.

Muscle growth and weight loss are connected. Losing weight won’t promote muscle gain and can even lead to a reduction in muscle mass without proper nutrition or if achieved too quickly. What many people don’t realise is that, if approached correctly, muscle growth will promote weight loss. The more muscle mass you have, the more calories you will burn at rest. It is estimated that for every pound of muscle you gain you burn an extra 50 calories a day. 4. This will lead to a healthier and leaner body through a more balanced body composition.

When the body is inactive, its resting metabolism determines how many calories are required to perform body functions. Fat burns less calories than muscles. Consequently, increasing muscle mass will also raise the number of calories needed for metabolism while the body is resting. This will promote weight loss, alongside with the calories required to work-out and build muscle mass.

Losing weight is all about making lifestyle adjustments to support a healthy body. The body requires fuel in order to exercise and build muscle mass to lose weight. This is where diet can become a limiting factor. It’s important to choose the right diet to support muscle growth and subsequent fat loss.

High protein diets are important to help build muscles. Proteins are made from amino acids, and amino acids play an integral role in supporting muscle growth. There a many amino acids that promote muscle growth, although branch-chain amino acids (BCAAs) are particularly effective. These include the amino acids L-isoleucine, L-leucine and L-valine. Metabolised in the muscles, these amino acids supply the body with energy, as well promoting muscle growth. There is plenty of research that has shown that BCAAs help individuals lose weight5 6 7.

Other amino acids that help with building muscle and reducing weight include, glycine, L-methionine and L-arginine. These amino acids are the precursor to creatine, an organic acid known to promote muscle growth 8.

By subscribing to a diet rich in protein and following a muscle building exercise routine, it’s possible to balance out body composition and lose weight. This can significantly reduce the health risks associated with being overweight or obese.

High protein foods are mainly animal derived. Poultry, fish, cheese, pork, lean beef, eggs and yogurt are particularly high in protein. However, there are also protein rich vegetarian options, such as nuts, seeds, beans, legumes, tofu, quinoa and other whole grains.

There are also a wide range of protein supplements available. Protein shakes are particularly popular and frequently used in association with muscle building exercise regimes. They are also a great source of protein for vegetarians or vegans, because today many protein powders can be sourced from peas, soy, brown rice or hemp.

There are a wide range of high protein diets, such as the famous Akins diet, Stillman diet, Life Without Bread, and the Schwarzbein Principle. Many of these diets have been criticised for restricting certain healthy foods. However, one high protein diet that has been shown to have positive health effects is the Paleo diet, also often referred to as the hunter-gatherer diet or the caveman diet.

The Paleo diet is founded on foods that could be fished, hunted and gathered during the Paleolithic era. Consequently, it’s based on fish, meat, shellfish, nuts, eggs, vegetables, fruits, roots and berries. This diet avoids dairy, sugar, processed oils, grains, legumes, and any other foods that were not available prior to agriculture.

Researchers looking at the effects of the Paleo diet have identified many health benefits. Not only does this diet assist with weight loss, it’s also reported to improve lipid profiles, increase insulin sensitivity, and improve glucose tolerance and blood pressure 9 10. Consequently, this diet may help to reduce the risk of heart disease and diabetes, as well as a range of other metabolic diseases.


The health issues associated with being overweight or obese are numerous. Excess weight not only makes individuals more susceptible to serious diseases, it also reduces the quality of life and increases the chance of premature mortality. However, one of the positive aspects of this global health issue is that it’s preventable and treatable.

Through making basic lifestyle adjustments it’s possible to lose weight, keep the weight off and dramatically increase your overall health. While many people struggle with this, it’s often because they aren’t taking the right approach. Building muscle is the best way to improve metabolism and lose weight. Creating the optimum fat and muscle body composition will make it easier to retain the desired body weight and a healthy bodyfat mass.

In order to stimulate muscle growth and fat loss, amino acids in the form of proteins are essential. Many amino acids are produced within the body. However, high protein diets can help to boost the concentration of these important amino acids. Following a suitable diet plan, such as the Paleo diet, and exercising regularly to build muscle mass, will translate into weight loss. It’s important to remember to eat a good balance of healthy, protein rich foods. Taking an appropriate dietary supplement in association with the Paleo diet may also help to ensure that no other amino acids or nutrients are lacking.

  1. “http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs311/en/
  2. “http://www.dh.gov.uk/health/2012/04/obesityfacts/
  3. “http://www.unm.edu/~lkravitz/Article%20folder/underbodycomp.html”
  4. “http://www.charlespoliquin.com/ArticlesMultimedia/Articles/Article/244/Why_Women_Should_Not_Be_Afraid_of_Gaining_Muscle.aspx”
  5. “https://www.thieme-connect.com/ejournals/abstract/10.1055/s-2007-972594”
  6. “http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21872432”
  7. “http://www.jissn.com/content/6/S1/P1”
  8. “http://www.nutritionjrnl.com/article/S0899-9007(04)00105-4/abstract”
  9. “http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19209185”
  10. “http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2787021/”