What are the health risks of obesity in women?

Yijun Chen, MD
Health risks of obesity in women include susceptibility to sexual dysfunction, irregular menstrual cycles and polycystic ovarian syndrome, an endocrine system disorder that can affect women’s hormone levels, menstrual cycle and ovulation.

For obese women who become pregnant, there is a greater likelihood of gestational diabetes and other complications, as well as giving birth to overweight or obese babies. Obesity is also a significant contributor to infertility. The good news is that studies show that obese women experiencing fertility problems who undergo weight loss surgery are 50% more likely to become fertile, and significantly more likely to experience a complication-free pregnancy and deliver a normal weight baby.
This content originally appeared online at UCLA Health.
Celeste Robb-Nicholson
Internal Medicine
Obesity (body mass index or BMI greater than 30) increases your risk for more than 50 different health problems. These conditions include some of women's leading causes of death -- heart disease, stroke, breast cancer, and diabetes -- as well as less serious ailments such as arthritic hips and knees and gallstones.

A Harvard study that included 120,000 women found that obesity increased the risk of diabetes 20 times and substantially boosted the risk of developing high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, and gallstones. Among people who were overweight or obese, there was a direct relationship between body mass index (BMI) and risk: the higher the BMI, the higher the likelihood of disease.

Studies are also linking obesity to cancer deaths. An American Cancer Society investigation that followed more than 900,000 people for 16 years suggested that overweight and obesity accounts for 20% of all cancer deaths in women 50 and older. Higher BMIs were associated with a higher risk of dying from cancer of the esophagus, colon and rectum, liver, gallbladder, pancreas, or kidney as well as cancer of the breast, uterus, cervix, or ovary.

Fat distribution also plays a role in health risk. While fat accumulated in the lower body settles directly under the skin, fat in the abdominal area is largely visceral, serving as padding between the organs. Where a woman puts on fat is influenced by heredity and hormones. A number of genes are involved in determining how many fat cells an individual develops and where these cells are stored. At menopause, estrogen production decreases and the proportion of androgens (male hormones present in small amounts in women) to estrogen increases -- a shift that's been linked in some studies to increased abdominal fat after menopause. Visceral fat is metabolically active, producing substances that spur inflammation and increase insulin resistance. Thus the apple shape -- particularly a waist measurement of 35 inches or more -- puts women at higher risk for heart disease and diabetes than a pear shape.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.