Obesity is defined as having a body mass index (kg/m²) of 30 or higher. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that approximately 42.4% of adults in the United States are obese, up from 30.5% just two decades ago. The current scientific literature notes that obesity is associated with an increased risk for heart disease, diabetes, hypertension, and some cancers.
Being severely overweight can also elevate one’s risk for musculoskeletal pain conditions. In the past, researchers hypothesized that excess weight places added strain on the joints and soft tissues in the body, increasing the risk for injury. This may be a contributing factor, but a 2020 study suggests that inflammation in the body associated with obesity may be a more important risk factor for developing conditions like back and neck pain. Whatever the mechanisms, obesity can cause both long-term health concerns and can make carrying out everyday activities more difficult due to musculoskeletal pain and disability.
The good news is that even if there is a family history of obesity, it may not be due to genetics but rather shared lifestyle habits among family members. Even if an individual has a genetic predisposition for obesity, it’s not necessarily irreversible, and the research shows that engaging in healthy lifestyle behaviors can change how those genes are expressed. So while it may be more difficult for some to achieve a healthier weight, it’s certainly possible in almost every case.
Fat accumulates in the body when excess calories are stored as fat. Diet and exercise are considered the cornerstones of weight management because you can control how many calories are consumed and can take steps to affect how many are burned.
While there’s no one-size-fits-all diet, the current research supports a meal plan that includes plenty of fruits and vegetables, lean meats, healthy fats, and a lower intake of red/cured meat, added sugar, and highly processed food products. The time of day that calories are consumed may also be important. Some experts suggest eating smaller meals throughout the day while others advise intermittent fasting strategies. It may take trial and error to see what dietary strategies are best for you.
Current federal guidelines recommend 150 minutes per week of moderate intensity exercise (or 75 minutes of high-intensity exercise) as well as two resistance training sessions that target the major muscle groups. There’s no consensus on which form of exercise is the best, so you’ll want to experiment to find an exercise strategy that you enjoy and can incorporate into your lifestyle.
Of course, consult with your doctor before beginning any diet or exercise program, and don’t be afraid to ask questions or seek advice. Your healthcare provider may have insights that can accelerate the weight loss process or even recommend experts such as a dietician or personal trainer to help you. If back pain, neck pain, or any other musculoskeletal conditions are getting in the way of achieving your goals, your chiropractor can treat you in the office and provide home care recommendations to help keep such issues from flaring up in the future.