The rising incidence of obesity in both children and adults has gained the attention of health care providers worldwide. While much of the attention has been focused on the association between obesity, cardiovascular disease and diabetes, ongoing research is demonstrating a link between obesity and many other diseases. The American College of Gastroenterology recently convened a task force to assess the impact of obesity on GI diseases.
Their findings showed several GI diseases are more common in individuals who are obese. For example, there is a 50% increased risk of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) in an obese individual, a 50-100% increased risk of erosive esophagitis, and a 2-3 fold increase in gallstones. Results from recently published research studies indicate that non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) is one of the most commonly seen diagnoses in patients who are overweight and also have metabolic syndrome. NAFLD can lead to changes in the liver that could ultimately result in more severe diseases, including cirrhosis and liver cancer. Liver cancer is one of the few types of cancer with a rising incidence, attributed to the increasing number of Americans considered overweight or obese. A correlation between abdominal obesity and pancreatic cancers has been identified. Endometrial cancer, post-menopausal breast cancer and colon cancer account for 2/3 of cancers attributable to excess body weight. In these cancers, being overweight is one of the 3 most common risk factors, included with smoking and infection.
What can you do to decrease your risk of GI diseases and GI cancers, as well as improve or eliminate the symptoms of GI disease you may currently be experiencing?
First, know your numbers. Body mass index (BMI) is the commonly used measure of obesity. BMI calculations are based on height and weight. BMI calculators are available online on many different web sites, or you can ask your doctor to help you calculate your BMI. Overweight is defined as a BMI from 25-29 kg/m2, and obesity is defined as a BMI of 30 kg/m2 or above.
Second, if your BMI places you in the categories of overweight or obese, commit to lifestyle changes that will reduce your risk of GI disease. Just a moderate reduction in calories will enable you to lose 1-2 pounds per week. A slow weight loss is the healthiest approach, and one that is easier to maintain than diets that promise rapid weight loss. Focus on healthy choices and portion control.
For best results, supplement your changes in diet with an increase in physical activity. Long sessions at a gym aren’t necessary. Thirty minutes of moderate activity per day is recommended. Moderate activity can include walking, cycling, dancing, even housekeeping. Anything you do on a consistent basis will provide health benefits.
If you have questions about the association between obesity and GI diseases, or need more information about how to control your risk through lifestyle changes, our physicians and nurses are here as a resource for you.