concerned woman on doctor's scale

Being overweight isn't good for your health; everyone knows that. But what diseases does being overweight put you at risk for? And is there more you can be doing to reduce your risk of disease?

Being Overweight or Obese Increases Your Risk of Disease
Most medical professionals use a body mass index (BMI) measurement to determine if someone is overweight or obese. Adults with a BMI of 25 to 29.9 are considered overweight, while those with BMIs of 30 or over are obese. Both conditions can contribute to health risks, though generally the higher your BMI, the greater your risk.

Diabetes is one of the main diseases now associated with overweight and obesity. According to Obesity in America, 80 percent of people with type-2 diabetes have a BMI of 27 or higher. Cardiovascular disease is also strongly linked to extra weight, particularly in people with extra fat around the waist. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report that obesity increases risk of certain cancers, including endometrial, breast, and colon cancer, as well as liver disease. It's also a major cause of gallstones, bladder control problems, and psychological disorders like depression, and can worsen degenerative joint diseases like osteoarthritis.

The primary health advice for people struggling with being overweight has been simply to "lose weight." Sometimes that advice, however, can be detrimental, particularly when not done healthily with a doctor's supervision. You may become discouraged after failed dieting attempts that result in rebound weight gain. However, the worst outcome is to lose hope and accept the health consequences of being overweight or obese.

Assessing the Risks
When doctors assess your risk of disease, overweight or obesity is just one of many factors they consider. The National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute also recommends evaluating the individual's waist circumference. Abdominal fat is considered a higher predictor of disease because the fat is stored closer to critical organs like the liver, heart, and lungs, and is believed to cause more potential damage to cells and tissues in those regions.

According to a Framingham heart study, abdominal obesity is a strong independent risk factor for heart disease. Using a waist-hip ratio, men with the biggest waists in relation to their hips had a 55 percent higher risk of developing coronary heart disease, compared to men with the smallest waists in relation to their hips. Women in the top waist-hip ratio group were 91 percent more likely to develop heart disease than those with smaller waist-hip ratios. You may not have much choice in where your fat decides to settle, but when it comes to other predictors of disease, you can have some influence.

Exercise Lowers Risk No Matter Your Weight
In looking at an individual's risk for disease, other factors like high blood pressure and physical inactivity come into play. In other words, if you're overweight or obese and you're physically inactive, your risk for disease is higher than someone of the same body weight who walks a half hour every day.

According to researchers at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, exercise decreases intra-abdominal fat, reducing risk of cancer, heart disease, and other chronic diseases. Another study found that risk of chronic disease was lower in obese men with moderate to high levels of aerobic fitness. Even a little weight loss will help your health. Studies show that losing 10 percent of one's body weight helps reduce risk of disease.

If you're struggling with weight loss, there are other things you can do to help reduce your risk of disease. A healthy diet is great disease deterrent. A 2011 study found that a high level of omega-3 fatty acids in the blood--like those that come from sardines, salmon, walnuts, and flaxseed--reduce risk of disease even in those who are overweight. Refraining from smoking and limiting alcohol intake (two drinks a day for men, one a day for women) as well as maintaining healthy cholesterol and blood pressure levels and taking up stress-relieving activities like daily meditation also reduces your risk of disease.