Excess weight: Unsafe at any age

Bigger isn't always better—and that's especially true when it comes to your waistline.

Unfortunately, expansive waistlines are common in America. Children, adults and seniors are all affected, and all are at risk for health problems caused by being overweight or obese.

Research shows that, at any age, being overweight or obese may damage a person's health and quality of life.

For overweight children, a worrisome future

Overweight children are at risk for health problems later on. According to the American Heart Association:

  • Overweight children are at risk for developing thick heart muscle tissue when they become adults, which increases their risk for heart attack and heart failure.
  • Overweight adolescents have a 70 to 80 percent chance of becoming overweight or obese adults.

Because of increased obesity among young people, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children have their weight and height measured and their body mass index (BMI)—a number based on height and weight—monitored by a doctor.

Children should also be taught to make healthy food choices; reduce the amount of time they spend watching television and playing video games; and increase physical activity, such as jumping rope, biking and skating.

Obese adults susceptible to disease

Obese adults are setting themselves up for serious health problems. Obesity is associated with a host of medical conditions, including type 2 diabetes; gallstones; high blood pressure; stroke; heart disease; sleep apnea; colon, endometrial and postmenopausal breast cancers; and osteoarthritis.

To learn whether your weight puts you at risk for health troubles, check your BMI.

Loss of independence threatens seniors

Excess weight at older ages can be disabling and lead to a loss of independence.

Overweight seniors may experience severe fatigue, shortness of breath, wheezing and ankle swelling, which can interfere with activities of daily living. These symptoms can make it difficult to live independently without help from another person.

And though health problems can sometimes make it difficult for older adults to be active or cook their own meals, studies show that nutrition and exercise can offer weight-loss benefits even to those with physical limitations. In addition, older people may be better than younger people at making favorable lifestyle changes, according to the American Federation for Aging Research.

Shedding pounds takes work

People of all ages who need to lose weight should remember that to lose weight, you need to take in fewer calories than you use. You can do this by creating and following a plan for healthful eating—possibly with the help of a dietitian—and developing a plan for regular physical activity. (You can see examples of how many calories different activities burn here.)

In severe cases, a doctor may prescribe weight-loss drugs, or as a last resort, you may need to consider weight-loss surgery.

Even moderate weight loss (about 5 percent of body weight) can improve your health and quality of life.

Learn more

You can order publications from the Weight-control Information Network online at win.niddk.nih.gov or by calling 800.860.8747.

reviewed 4/14/2018

Related stories