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Treating obesity

Effects of obesity on health and the benefits of weight loss

Excess weight can often be associated with obesity health risks that impact an individual’s quality of life and wellbeing. Thankfully, even a modest amount of weight loss can mean immediate health benefits. Here, we’ve broken down the benefits you may see when you lose 5%, 10%, 15% or more of your body weight.

11 min. read
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Weight management to tackle obesity health risks

Weight loss can dramatically improve overall health, alleviate symptoms and lower the risk of developing obesity-related diseases such as cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes and more.

So how much weight do you need to lose to lessen obesity health risks and reap the benefits?

Everyone’s weight management journey is different and depends on individual health concerns. It’s a good idea to manage your expectations by focusing on your “best weight”—the weight that you can achieve and maintain while living your healthiest and happiest life—rather than a goal weight. You will start to see significant health benefits at around a 5% loss of initial body weight. Weight loss of 10% to 15% of body weight is associated with even more improvements. Click on the plus signs below to learn about the benefits that come with each percentage.

Obesity health risks and 5% weight loss:

Lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes

Losing up to 5% of your body weight can lower your risk of developing type 2 diabetes, which is commonly associated with obesity. A lifestyle change program recognized by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) demonstrated a reduced risk of developing type 2 diabetes by 58% in individuals who achieved weight loss of at least 7%.

Ease osteoarthritis of the knee

In people over 60 living with overweight or obesity, an average weight loss of 5.7% eased osteoarthritis of the knee. Participants had less knee pain and discomfort, improved mobility and better overall knee function. Moreover, an average weight loss of 5.1 kg in people living with obesity showed to lower the risk of developing osteoarthritis by over 50%.

Improve heart health and cardiovascular disease risk factors

Living with overweight or obesity may lead to many serious health conditions and increase the risk of stroke and vascular diseases. Excess visceral fat is associated with a higher risk of heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol. Data show that losing 5 to 10% of initial body weight results in an improvement in hemoglobin A1c, triglycerides, blood pressure and LDL cholesterol. The greater the weight loss, the greater improvement in cardiovascular risk factors.

Lower chronic inflammation

There are obesity health risks related to your immune system. Obesity is associated with activating the immune system, stimulating chronic low-grade inflammation and having a negative effect on immunity from infection and progression of chronic disease.

Losing weight can lead to fewer pro-inflammatory markers called cytokines in the blood for people living with overweight or obesity. This can play an important role in preventing chronic diseases.

Fewer cancer risk factors

Obesity has been linked to several common cancers including: 

  • Breast

  • Colorectal

  • Esophageal

  • Kidney

  • Gallbladder

  • Ovarian

  • Pancreatic

  • Liver

  • Thyroid 

Obesity also increases the risk of dying from cancer and may influence the treatment choices. About 4 to 8% of all cancers are attributed to obesity.

Losing more than 5% of your body weight has been found to lower your risk of obesity-related cancers, especially endometrial cancer.

Longer and better sleep

Carrying excess weight can affect the quality of your sleep. In research performed at John Hopkins University, people living with overweight or obesity noted sleep-related problems such as:

  • Insomnia

  • Daytime fatigue

  • Sleepiness

  • Restless sleep 

  • Sleep apnea 

  • Use of sedatives to aid sleep

In a study at the University of Pennsylvania, adults living with overweight or obesity who lost 5% or more of their initial body weight experienced longer, better sleep within 6 months. Those who initially reported mild or greater symptoms of depression also saw improvement in their overall mood over a short- and long-term period. The study also found that losing body fat, especially around the stomach, was critical to improving sleep quality.

Improve polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) symptoms

Obesity has been shown to disrupt fertility in women through various biological pathways.

One study reported that PCOS patients living with obesity improved their menstrual cycles, ovulation and fertility following a low-calorie eating pattern and weight loss. The authors concluded that losing weight was an effective approach for PCOS patients who were infertile and overweight.

In a separate study, 80% of women living with obesity and PCOS who lost over 5% of their weight through a low-glycemic eating pattern experienced improvements in their reproductive function.

Ease rheumatoid arthritis (RA)

Having excess fat tissue creates inflammation that affects your joint tissues. This can lead to more inflammation and pain associated with RA.

Living with obesity also lowers the likelihood of achieving sustained remission (no RA symptoms or having symptoms under control) in response to antirheumatic drug treatment by 47%.

In a study, researchers analyzed data from RA patients over several years where 67% of the participants were living with overweight or obesity. Losing 5 kg or more was associated with improvements in RA, such as joint tenderness, pain and function. The researchers noted that participants benefitted when they lost any amount of weight but experienced more positive effects in joint tenderness, pain and function the more weight they lost.

Improve metabolic dysfunction-associated steatohepatitis (MASH) signs

Losing weight has been reported to reduce signs and symptoms of MASH. 

During a 52-week study, MASH patients who lost up to 5% of their body weight experienced notable health improvements, such as:

  • Reduction of fat in the liver

  • Resolution of steatohepatitis (10%)

  • Lower (MASH) activity scores (32%)

  • Regression of fibrosis (16%)

However, the greatest benefits were observed in patients who lost 10% or more of their body weight:

  • The highest rates of MASH reduction

  • MASH resolution (90%)

  • Fibrosis regression (45%)

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Check your BMI with a BMI calculator

Body mass index (BMI) is an important measurement when it comes to understanding your weight. While it should not be used to diagnose obesity, it can be used as a screening tool to classify your weight.

Obesity health risks and 10% weight loss

In a recent study of people living with overweight or obesity in the UK, people with a median weight loss of 13% experienced reduction of obesity health risks, including less risk of:

  • type 2 diabetes by 41% 

  • sleep apnea by 40%

  • hypertension by 22%

  • dyslipidemia by 19%

  • asthma by 18%

These are some of the benefits you can expect when you lose 5 to 10% of your body weight.

Lower blood pressure

A study found that participants who lost 10% to 15% of their initial body weight had improvements in their blood pressure.

Participants living with overweight or obesity with type 2 diabetes experienced an average decrease of 5 mmHg in their systolic blood pressure. They also benefited from improvements in other cardiovascular disease risk factors.

An analysis of many studies showed that a 1 kg loss in body weight was associated with an approximate 1 mmHg reduction in blood pressure. This emphasizes the importance of weight loss in preventing and treating hypertension (high blood pressure).

Improve lipid parameters

Losing 5 to 10% of your body weight helps lower concentrations of “bad” LDL-cholesterol, triglycerides and total cholesterol levels.

According to an analysis of more than 70 studies, losing weight through lifestyle, pharmacologic and/or surgical interventions was associated with changes in serum lipids.

Improve gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) symptoms

GERD symptoms improved in men who lost 10% or more of their body weight and in women who lost 5 to 10% of their body weight.

Because 37% of people living with overweight or obesity have GERD symptoms, researchers noted that losing weight could help the majority of participants resolve their symptoms.

Less joint pain in knee osteoarthritis (OA)

In a study of people living with obesity with OA, losing an average of 13.5% of their body weight resulted in notable benefits, including:

  • 7% lower force on the knee joint during activity (knee joint loading)

  • 13% lower load on the knee when you take a step (axial impulse)

  • 12% reduction in the internal knee abductor moment

Patients experienced improvement in mobility and had less pain when active.

In a study on the effects of a rapid weight-loss dietary approach on people with knee OA, researchers found that losing 10% of body weight improved physical function by 28%.

Lower cancer-related risks

Developing certain cancers (including colorectal, pancreatic, kidney, ovarian and postmenopausal breast cancer) has been linked to having excess fat and is an obesity health risk.

A study of postmenopausal women found that losing more than 9 kg of initial body weight lowered the risk for certain cancers (such as breast, endometrial and colon). These participants were 11% less likely to develop cancer compared to those who didn't lose the same weight.

Increase in sexual satisfaction

Higher BMI is linked to impairments in sexual quality of life, especially in women and candidates for gastric bypass surgery. People living with obesity reported significant improvements in their sexual quality of life when they lost an average of 13% of their body weight. They reported feeling more attractive and having a stronger sex drive. Most of the improvement was seen in the first three months after the participants lost an average of 11.8% of their body weight.

One study was conducted on erectile function in men living with overweight or obesity and type 2 diabetes. Participants undergoing weight loss treatment lost an average of 9.9% of their body weight. A higher percentage of these participants maintained or improved their erectile function during the study.

Another study was conducted on women living with obesity and type 2 diabetes. They reported that intensive lifestyle intervention with a weight loss of around 7.6 kg improved their sexual function.

Fewer postmenopausal symptoms

Researchers studied postmenopausal women participating in a nutritional program designed to lower dietary fat and increase fruit, vegetable and fibre intake. Women who lost at least 10% of their weight were more likely to have fewer or no menopause symptoms like hot flashes and night sweats over one year.

Reduce risk of sleep apnea

Weight loss is often recommended as a treatment for obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), a potentially serious condition that causes occasional stops in breathing during sleep.

Researchers followed people with OSA and type 2 diabetes and found that the severity of OSA was reduced after weight loss. Participants who lost 10 kg or more (approximately 10% of the average body weight of participants) experienced the greatest reduction in OSA symptoms.

Another study found that a 10% weight loss was effective in managing participants sleep-disordered breathing, leading to a more restful night’s sleep.

Reduce episodes of urinary incontinence

Weight loss can lead to fewer episodes of urinary incontinence.

Women living with overweight or obesity and who had urinary incontinence showed notable improvements after a 6-month weight loss program including dietary approach and exercise. With an average weight loss of <10% of body weight, participants had 47% fewer urinary incontinence episodes. This was compared to 28% of participants who did not manage weight. Overall, more women in the weight-loss group reported improvements. In some cases, the number of incontinence, stress incontinence and urge incontinence episodes was reduced by 70%.

Improve memory

Living with overweight has been negatively linked with cognitive function. Similarly, living with obesity in midlife has been linked with an increased risk of dementia and Alzheimer's disease.

When postmenopausal women who were living with overweight followed a dietary approach to weight management for 6 months, losing an average of 9.2% of their body weight, researchers observed improvements in their episodic memory.

Obesity health risks and 15% weight loss

Stronger immune system

A 5 to 10% weight loss can lead to fewer inflammation-causing immune cells and further loss leads to even greater improvements.

A clinical trial investigated the effects of weight loss on immune cells in people with a BMI over 35 kg/m2 and who had type 2 diabetes or prediabetes. Participants lost an average of 13.5% of their body weight and improved their anti-inflammatory immune balance.

Reduce mortality

In a study by the Institute of Medicine at Gothenburg University, researchers observed adults living with obesity over an average period of 10.9 years. Participants lost an average of 18.3% of their body weight from surgical treatment. This led to a 24% lower mortality rate over the study period.

Fewer sugar cravings

Individuals with overweight or obesity have more frequent cravings for high-calorie and highly processed foods during the day and outside mealtime.

A study of women living with overweight or obesity showed weight loss of around 14.6% caused less preference for sugary foods, fewer cravings and better appetite regulation.

Lower risk of chronic diseases

While risk factors for certain chronic diseases improve with modest weight loss, there are further benefits to be gained. Health factors such as blood pressure and lipid concentrations in the blood have a linear relationship with weight loss. 

Losing more weight can improve health markers related to chronic diseases. It lowers risk factors for conditions such as heart disease, stroke and diabetes. Losing 10 to 15% of your body weight increases the likelihood of relieving symptoms of conditions such as obstructive sleep apnea and nonalcoholic steatohepatitis.

Final thoughts

There is no instant fix to losing weight. As you try to manage weight, embrace patience and a long-term mindset. Health isn't just about a number on a scale. You may experience improvements in your quality of life connected to lowering your obesity health risks.

Many of the health benefits from weight loss are gradual and develop over time. Health is a long-term lifestyle, not a sprint to the finish. The path to a healthier lifestyle can be hard to navigate, but remember that the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. Embracing small changes now can have a huge effect on your future.



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