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The Hidden Burdens of Obesity: Greater Sensitivity to Pain, More Prone to Fatal Auto Crashes & More

For the 30 percent of U.S. adults (that's over 60 million people) who suffer from the "Great American Disease" - obesity - there are multiple health risks that are of serious concern. It's commonly known that being overweight and obese increases the risks of numerous health problems, such as these, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC):


Over 60 million U.S. adults are obese and at risk of a number of physical and emotional problems.

  • Hypertension

  • High total cholesterol

  • High triglycerides

  • Type 2 diabetes

  • Coronary heart disease

  • Stroke

  • Gallbladder disease

  • Osteoarthritis

  • Sleep apnea and respiratory problems

  • Some cancers (endometrial, breast and colon)

Although one of the national health objectives for the year 2010 is to get the percentage of U.S. adults who are obese down to 15 percent, currently the prevalence is increasing rather than decreasing.

Aside from the physical health risks, obesity can also take a huge emotional toll. Many obese people report feeling discriminated against, having low self-esteem and feeling self-conscious or uncomfortable in social situations.

Obesity's Hidden Burdens

For those who are in this growing population, those at risk of joining it, or those who love someone who is obese, knowing that there are other, much less commonly known, but still very serious risks to this increasingly common condition is of utmost importance.

Obesity Raises Risk of Dying in a Car Accident

Research from the Medical College of Wisconsin Injury Research Center in Milwaukee, published in the American Journal of Public Health, analyzed data from over 22,000 drivers over the age of 16. They found that being obese increases a man's risk of dying in a motor vehicle accident.

Male drivers with a body-mass index (BMI) greater than 35 were significantly more likely to die after a front-end or left-side collision than men with intermediate BMIs, researchers said. (Those who were very thin, with BMIs lower than 22, were also more likely to die).


Obese children are about 50 percent more likely to be bullied than their normal-weight peers.

"The increased risk of dying in motor vehicle collisions associated with a high BMI may be due to some combination of momentum effects, co-morbidities of obesity, and emergency and postoperative treatment problems in the obese," the authors said.

More Sensitive to Pain

Obese people also seem to be more sensitive to pain than people of a normal weight, according to Ohio State University researchers. They conducted a study of 62 older adults with osteoarthritis of the knee.

They were given a mild electrical shock on their ankle both before and after receiving a 45-minute training session on how to cope with pain.

Obese participants, who made up about one-third of the group, had a greater physical response to the electric shock than did normal-weight patients -- both before and after the pain-management training session. This indicates the obese patients had a lower tolerance for pain, researchers pointed out, even though they said they had a high pain tolerance.

Getting the Wrong Blood Pressure Readings

Because arm cuffs used for blood pressure readings must be the proper size to give an accurate reading, obese people may receive incorrect results. A study in the British Medical Journal found that 8 percent of obese patients were wrongly diagnosed as hypertensive because a standard size cuff, as opposed to a large size adult cuff, was used.

This misdiagnosis could mean that the patient would be prescribed drugs or antihypertensive treatments unnecessarily.

"Our findings show that blood pressure readings taken by the auscultatory method using a standard cuff instead of a large cuff in subjects with obese arms will be significantly higher in many individuals. Limited availability of different cuff sizes makes the improper usage of a standard cuff a frequent practice. Such circumstance potentially becomes a source of biased blood pressure readings," the authors said.

Increased Risk of Being Bullied for Children

A study of over 8,000 7-year-olds in the UK found that obese children were about 50 percent more likely to be bullied than their normal-weight peers. The study found that:

  • 36 percent of obese boys, and 34 percent of obese girls, were victims of "overt" bullying, which included physical harm, intimidation and name-calling

  • 14 percent of the obese boys became bullies (compared to 10 percent of the normal-weight boys) themselves (researchers suspect because of their dominant size)

  • Children as young as 4 display negative feelings toward overweight children their age

How to Overcome Obesity

If you or someone you love is obese, you should begin a weight-loss program under the supervision of a health care professional. The Surgeon General's Healthy Weight Advice for Consumers recommends the following general tips:

  • Aim for a healthy weight. People who need to lose weight should do so gradually, at a rate of one-half to two pounds per week.

  • Be active. The safest and most effective way to lose weight is to reduce calories and increase physical activity.

  • Eat well. Select sensible portion sizes and follow the Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

For more detailed weight loss advice, please check out the recommended articles below.

Recommended Reading

8 Secret Tactics that Trigger Your Body to Burn More Fat and Calories

The 7 (Honest) Facts You Should Know About Losing Thigh Fat, Gut Fat, and Fat in Other "Problem" Areas

If Your Weight is an Issue, This Is (By Far) the Most Important "Secret" You Should Know


Obese and Skinny Male Drivers Fare Worse in Car Crashes

The Seattle Post-Intelligencer: Obesity-Pain Sensitivity Measured

British Medical Journal August 30, 2003;327:468

CDC: Overweight and Obesity

Archives of Disease in Childhood, Vol. 91, No. 2, February 2006: 121-125

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