Fast Facts – Obesity-Related Chronic Disease

February 26, 2020

Fast Facts - Obesity Related Chronic Diseases
Fast Facts - Obesity Related Chronic Disease

Download: Fast Facts - Obesity-Related Chronic Disease (PDF)

OBESITY is a complex chronic disease in which abnormal or excessive accumulation of body fat impairs health. Adult obesity rates have more than doubled since the 1980s — in the U.S. today, obesity affects over 42% of adults and 18% of youth.1,2 Obesity and its related complications are major drivers of rising healthcare costs, diminished health-related quality of life, and the recent decline in U.S. life expectancy. This fact sheet is part of a series designed to provide basic information about the science of obesity and current strategies to address it.

Key Takeaways

  • Obesity is the leading risk factor for type-2 diabetes and osteoarthritis.
  • Obesity is a major risk factor for heart disease and hypertension.
  • Obesity is causally linked to 13 different cancers.
  • 5 to 10% reductions in body weight can decrease chronic disease risk among persons with obesity.



What Chronic Diseases are Associated with Obesity?




  • Overweight and obesity increase risks of type-2 diabetes and gestational diabetes.3
  • Research has shown that losing weight can significantly reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
    • A 5-7% weight loss together with moderate levels of physical activity (e.g. walking 30 minutes a day, 5 days a week) decreased the number of new type 2 diabetes cases by 58% among people at risk for diabetes4,5

Heart Disease

  • Over 80% of patients with coronary heart disease (CHD) have overweight or obesity. Although obesity is sometimes considered a minor CHD risk factor, weight loss can reduce major risk factors like high blood pressure (hypertension), insulin resistance, diabetes mellitus, and dyslipidemia.6
    • Obesity increases the risk for hypertension, which damages arteries in the heart, brain, kidneys, and eyes7
    • If average BMI is reduced by 5 percent by 2030, over 5 million Americans could be spared from developing obesity-related hypertension8


  • Obesity-related cancers include endometrial, esophageal adenocarcinoma, gastric cardia, liver, kidney, multiple myeloma, meningioma, pancreatic, colorectal, gallbladder, breast, ovarian and thyroid cancers.9
  • According to the CDC, approximately 55% of cancer diagnoses for women and 24% of cancer diagnoses for men are associated with overweight and obesity.10
  • In 2014, the American Cancer Society calculated that 123,350 new cancer cases were associated with excess body weight in the United States. 11


  • Obesity is associated with cardiometabolic conditions that increase individual long-term risk of heart disease and stroke, including: 8,12
    • high blood pressure
    • high levels of harmful blood fats (triglycerides)
    • high levels of “bad cholesterol” (low-density lipoprotein, LDL)
    • low levels of “good cholesterol” (high-density lipoprotein, HDL)


  • Obesity is a major risk factor for development of osteoarthritis (OA), particularly of the knee.
    • Three-quarters of people with OA have overweight or obesity13
    • Adults with obesity are up to four times more likely to develop OA of the knee than adults without obesity14


Under Investigation: Excessive Weight Gain in Early Adulthood 

Approximately 1 in 4 women and 1 in 8 men gain 44 pounds or more between the ages of 18 and 55 years. New research suggests that preventing excessive weight gain during this period may be a promising target for intervention.

Weight gain ≥ 44 pounds during early to middle adulthood significantly increases chronic disease risk

Chart comparing men and women’s chronic disease risk with excessive weight gain across five diseases.  Type-2 diabetes: men 7.5x higher risk, women 9.5 higher risk.  Coronary artery disease: men 1.6x, women 2.2x.  Obesity-related cancers: men 1.5x, women 1.7x.  Stroke: men 1.5x, women 1.6x. Severe osteoarthritis: men 1.4x, women 1.4x

1.5x more likely to die prematurely
among male non-smokers who gain ≥ 44 lbs from early to middle adulthood (21-44 year range)

1.4x more likely to die prematurely
among female non-smokers who gain ≥ 44 lbs from early to middle adulthood (21-44 year range)



  1. Hales CM, Carroll MD, Fryar CD, Ogden CL. Prevalence of obesity and severe obesity among adults: United States, 2017–2018. NCHS Data Brief, no 360. Hyattsville, MD: National Center for Health Statistics. 2020
  2. Hales CM, Carroll MD, Fryar CD, Ogden CL. Prevalence of obesity among adults and youth: United States, 2015–2016. 2017.
  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Diabetes: Quick Facts. Atlanta, GA: U.S. Department of Health and Human Service. Accessed Aug 1, 2019.
  4. Hamman, R.F et al. Effect of weight loss with lifestyle intervention on risk of diabetes. Diabetes Care. 2006;29: 2102-2107.
  5. The Diabetes Prevention Program Research Group. The Diabetes Prevention Program. Diabetes Care, 25(12): 2165-71, 2002.
  6. Ades PA, Savage PD. Obesity in coronary heart disease: an unaddressed behavioral risk factor. Preventive Medicine, 2017;104, 117-119.
  7. Harvard Health. Blood pressure and your brain. Accessed October 1, 2019.
  8. Trust for America’s Health. F as in Fat. 2012.
  9. National Cancer Institute. Obesity and Cancer. Accessed June 22, 2019.
  10. CDC. Accessed June 22, 2019.
  11. Islami F et al. Proportion and number of cancer cases and deaths attributable to potentially modifiable risk factors in the United States. CA Cancer J Clin. 2018;68: 31-54.
  12. Benjamin EJ, Virani SS, Callaway CW, et al. Heart disease and stroke Statistics—2018 update: A report from the American heart association. Circulation. 2018; 137(12): e67-e492.
  13. Arthritis Foundation. Arthritis Facts. Accessed June 22, 2019.
  14. Felson DT and Zhang Y. An Update on the Epidemiology of Knee and Hip Osteoarthritis with a View to Prevention. Arthritis and Rheumatism, 41(8):1343–55, 1998.

A product of the Strategies to Overcome & Prevent (STOP) Obesity Alliance at the Sumner M. Redstone Global Center for Prevention & Wellness