Overweight and Obesity in Women: Health Risks and Consequences

Frank B. Hu, M.D., Ph.D.

In This Article

Abstract and Introduction

The evidence for the adverse effects of obesity on women's health is overwhelming and indisputable. Obesity, especially abdominal obesity, is central to the metabolic syndrome and is strongly related to polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) in women. Obese women are particularly susceptible to diabetes, and diabetes, in turn, puts women at dramatically increased risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD). Obesity substantially increases the risk of several major cancers in women, especially postmenopausal breast cancer and endometrial cancer. Overweight and obesity are associated with elevated mortality from all causes in both men and women, and the risk of death rises with increasing weight. Curbing the twin epidemics of obesity and diabetes calls for not only changes in diet and lifestyle at individual levels but also changes in policy, physical and social environment, and cultural norms.

Obesity and diabetes have reached epidemic proportions in the United States. According to the most recent data from the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS),[1] 20.2% of men (19.6 million) and 19.4% of women (19.2 million) were clinically obese (body mass index [BMI] _30 kg/m2 ), and 6.5% of men (6.3 million) and 8.2% of women (8.7 million) reported having diagnosed diabetes. Obesity and type 2 diabetes are particularly detrimental to women's health. Women with a higher degree of abdominal obesity are especially susceptible to type 2 diabetes, and diabetic women have disproportionally higher relative risk of coronary heart disease (CHD) than diabetic men.[2] In this paper, we review the relationship between obesity and metabolic syndrome, chronic diseases, and mortality, with particular emphasis on women.


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