The Devastating Impact of Obesity

One of the biggest disease epidemics facing us today is obesity. And the fact is, it’s only going to get worse. Indeed, the UK government puts the overall cost to society as a whole at £27 billion. 

They project that obesity will cost the NHS (the UK’s National Health Service) an estimated £9.7 billion by 2050. And in America, it’s predicted 51% of the population will be obese by 2030. 

That’s staggering. 

But far more important than the monetary value is the cost of obesity to your health. Obesity negatively impacts your health in a number of ways – 

It’s associated with type 2 diabetes, heart disease, hypertension (high blood pressure), stroke, chronic back pain and multiple strains of cancer. It’s estimated that this leads to more three million deaths annually worldwide [1]. 

Many people, particularly in the fitness industry, tend to take a simplistic view of obesity, so they conclude people are obese because they’re lazy. But things are not so cut and dry.

In this article we’ll explore some of the causes of obesity, it’s impact on your health and ultimately what you can do about it. 

the impact of obesity uk

The Main Causes of Obesity

Before we address some of the health implications of obesity, I think it’s helpful to understand the main causes of it. 

As mentioned, obesity cannot be written off simply as laziness, though it would be wrong to suggest that this isn’t a factor in some cases. It’s in our nature as human beings to take the path of least resistance, and it’s all too easy to deceive ourselves with hogwash such as: “Diet starts Monday!” or “I’ll go to the gym tomorrow!”

A leading cause of the obesity epidemic today is the consumption of processed food - primarily from simple sugars. It’s cheap, convenient and it’s everywhere. In fact, it’s an inescapable fact of modern life. 

If you want to avoid processed food altogether, you need to be diligent in both food shopping and meal preparation. This requires planning and forethought – something most people simply aren’t willing to do. That said, it’s no mean feat given most people are up to their eyeballs in social, family and work obligations. 

Another leading cause of obesity today is sedentary lifestyle, simply because we move much less than we used to. 

Our predecessors worked manual labor jobs, however, modern life means that our bodies are at a near standstill. We drive to work in a car or sit on the train, then we spend all day sat at a desk.

man waistline obesity

It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that moving about burns more calories than sitting down. This ultimately leads to less fat accumulation because more energy is expended, instead of being stored as fat. A simplistic explanation? Perhaps, but I suspect if people moved more in their day to day lives, e.g. walking, there would be a lot less obesity. 

A further overlooked aspect that can lead to obesity is the effect of modern life on our emotional and spiritual well-being. While modern living has made our lives more comfortable and convenient, arguably, we’re more stressed and unhappy than ever. 

Research indicates that there is a strong link between obesity and depression [2]. Moreover, when there is no outlet for our emotions, this can lead to emotional (comfort) eating. And the end result here is obesity. One interesting research paper notes the link between spiritual well-being and obesity: 

“Exploratory evaluation on the relationship between emotional eating and spiritual well-being showed that lower levels of spiritual well-being is correlated with higher levels of emotional eating, especially in women. There is some evidence that, emotional eating contributes to impaired nutritional behaviors such as higher caloric intake, binge eating, and bulimic eating desires.” [3]

It comes as no surprise, then, that we have so much depression and obesity in our consumerist society which is almost devoid of spirituality, 

This should give you some idea of the main causes of obesity. Now we’ve examined them, let’s take a look at the impact of obesity on your health. 

Obesity leads to insulin resistance 

One of the greatest health risks posed by obesity is insulin resistance. Insulin is a hormone produced in the pancreas and plays a key role in metabolism. This is often discussed in health and fitness circles; and for good reason – it’s one of the most anabolic hormones in the body. But it’s also a double-edged sword – too much of it can be toxic and harmful to your health. 

After you eat a meal containing carbohydrates, your pancreas releases insulin into the bloodstream. The release of insulin leads to the uptake of glucose from your bloodstream into the cells in your body. 

Insulin resistance occurs when the pancreas secretes more and more insulin to combat high blood glucose levels (typically caused by eating high amounts of sugar). Eventually, your body’s cells become resistant to the effects of insulin and glucose uptake is impaired, and often the pancreas cannot produce enough insulin to keep up with the demand. 

Insulin resistance is a big deal because it’s the genesis for many other disease states. Excessive levels of glucose and insulin in the bloodstream alone are toxic to the endothelium (cells that line the interior surface of blood vessels) [4]. As such, it’s an independent risk factor for cardiovascular disease. Moreover, insulin resistance is associated with a string of other conditions, including non-alcoholic fatty liver disease and certain strains of cancer [5]. 

Obesity kills your mood

Obesity can have a huge impact on your mental health. Multiple studies demonstrate the link between obesity and depression [6,7]. Though, of course, we don’t need a study to point out that if you don’t like the way your body looks, then you’re going to feel depressed. 

One study reviewed nine separate studies that included over 170,000 participants to investigate the link between obesity and depression. 

The analysis had specific selection criteria and each study was evaluated for methodological quality and risk of bias. The researchers concluded that overweight and obese individuals were 32% more likely to have depression compared to non-obese individuals [8].

The mechanism by which obesity lowers mood and leads to depression is not fully understood, although there are a few points to consider. 

Many of the body’s feel-good chemicals or neurotransmitters, i.e. serotonin and dopamine, are made in the gut. If you eat a diet high in processed food, also known as a “western diet,” this upsets the delicate balance of gut flora (friendly bacteria). This is important because many of the “friendly” bacteria in your stomach help produce serotonin and dopamine [9]. 

Obese individuals may feel more depressed, subsequently they may experience carbohydrate cravings to self-medicate and feel better. These foods deplete the production of serotonin in the stomach, due to the imbalance of gut flora. Serotonin also plays a role in appetite-suppression [10]. Therefore, eating this type of diet constitutes a type of vicious circle for obesity. 

In addition, dopamine plays an important role in what’s known as the brain reward circuit. Pathological overeating is motivated by pleasure and compulsion, and rewarded by dopamine. This is in a similar manner to drug addiction. Indeed, obese individuals show a depletion of dopamine levels similar to those of drug addicts. Although, it’s not entirely clear whether obesity is driven by a dopamine deficiency, or whether this results from compulsive overeating [11]. 

man low mood depressed

Obesity lowers testosterone

Another little understood aspect to obesity is the fact that it lowers testosterone levels in men. Low testosterone is associated with increased fat tissue and reduced lean body mass in men [12] .

Testosterone key to cardiovascular, immune and cognition. It’s also key to sexual desire and feelings of well-being. But not only that, optimal testosterone levels are key to your results in the gym. Testosterone increases strength, lean muscle mass and upregulates muscle protein synthesis [13]. 

Essentially, obesity results in high estrogen levels (estrogen dominance). Estrogen is important for male health, but at high levels it can cause health problems. This is because the aromatase enzyme - responsible for the conversion of testosterone to estrogen - is abundant in adipose (fat) tissue. Therefore, at higher levels of body fat, more testosterone gets converted into estrogen.

High estrogen levels can directly lower testosterone production. So, if you have a high level of body fat, it can have a huge negative impact on testosterone production. High estrogen lowers testosterone through the suppression of gonadotropin hormones - luteinizing hormone (LH) and follicle stimulating hormone (FSH). 

These are hormones sent by the brain to the testes that signal it to produce testosterone. Without this signal, the testes will not produce sufficient quantities of testosterone.

Excessive circulating estrogen can damage testicular tissue, thereby lowering testosterone production [14].

As low testosterone is also associated with a reduction in lean muscle mass, this also makes it harder for obese individuals to lose body fat. Similarly, inflammatory hormones from fat tissue reduces muscle function. A reduction in testosterone may also have an effect on your motivation to exercise. 

In addition to the problems that arise from low testosterone and obesity, such as sleep apnea and elevated stress level has led some researchers to call low testosterone and obesity a “self-perpetuating cycle.” [15

If you want to find out to optimize your testosterone levels and get in the shape of your life, check out my book Optimized Under 35.

testosterone and obesity

Source: Mark Ng Tang Fui, Philippe Dupuis, and Mathis Grossmann. “Lowered testosterone in male obesity: mechanisms, morbidity and management.” Asian J Androl. 2014 Mar-Apr; 16(2): 223–231. Doi: 10.4103/1008-682X.122365

Obesity destroys your immune system

At the time of writing, the world is enveloped in the coronavirus crisis. People are frantically searching the Internet for ways they can protect themselves against the virus.

Vitamin C, D and zinc are flying off the shelves, and while these supplements are great additions to fight off infection, they amount to a drop in the ocean if your immune function is compromised through poor health.

Approximately 70% of your immune system is located in your gut. That means maintaining your gut health is essential in your quest for optimal health and well-being. 

Modern life trashes your gut health from process choices, and the damage is further amplified by high sugar and alcohol intake. And excess body fat suppresses your immune system through the release of pro-inflammatory hormones. [16]

What we're seeing right now is not simply a COVID-19 crisis. We're witnessing the effect of chronic stress, lack of sleep and particularly poor diet at scale. 

This makes people much more vulnerable to infection than they otherwise would be.

If you want to reduce your risk of getting an infection, coronavirus or not, you must first look at your gut health, and the most effective way to do that is by cleaning up your diet. 

You can follow a mainstream diet like paleo or the ketogenic diet, or you can follow the principle of 'metabolic flexibility' to figure out the best approach for you. Jay Campbell and I discuss this concept in depth in our book Living a Fully Optimized Life.

Eating real, whole foods from natural sources should be your top priority – not just stocking up your medicine cabinet with vitamins. 

Nutrition is by far and away the most important factor in body composition, nonetheless, you should also be lifting weights if health and longevity are long-term goals. 

Final thoughts

The point of this article is not to make you feel bad, rather, to highlight the impact obesity has on your health. However, if it prompts you to take action, then I’ve done my job properly.

You cannot be complacent about being overweight. It’s a ticking time bomb that will eventually go off, and like a real bomb, the results are devastating. 

I didn’t write any tips or tactics on how to fight obesity and lose weight, because the internet is full of such articles. A quick search on this site will give you plenty to go at. 

Nonetheless, one key aspect to fighting obesity that many overlook is hormonal balance. As mentioned, metabolic syndrome and obesity lower testosterone levels and elevate estrogen.

This means that no matter how much you exercise or diet, you can struggle to lose weight. And you feel like you’re spinning your wheels. 

I cannot emphasize enough the importance of hormonal balance, especially testosterone, in your quest to lose weight. 

Hormonal balance means more energy, motivation and drive to get into shape and pursue your health goals – especially if they’ve taken a back seat for a long time. 

Rome was not built in a day and so it is with your body.

If you've spent years eating badly, you can't simply unfuck yourself in 4 weeks. It won’t take forever, but you must be patient.

That’s why I work with most of my clients for a minimum of six months, because it takes time for your body to catch up with your behavior. 

From here on out you have two options... 

You can go on your next vacation to the Dominican Republic or Costa Rica, feel self-conscious about taking your shirt off on the beach, gain 10 lbs from the trip, and spend the next few months gaining yet more weight and struggle to ever get it off.

Alternatively, you can learn the underlying principles that I teach, which will allow you to strut shirtless around the hotel pool like you own the place, go on vacations and enjoy your time away without worrying about food, and have your wife grabbing your arms and wanting to jump all over you.

If the second option sounds like you, click the button below to find out more about my coaching and schedule a free consultation call with me to see if it might be right for you: