Obesity is the root cause of many medical conditions, often called comorbidities. Studies have shown that weight loss benefits for some comorbidities can be seen after as little as a 3% weight loss. Continued weight loss can lead to even greater improvement in certain comorbidities.
Two examples of common obesity-related comorbidities are musculoskeletal issues like chronic back pain and osteoarthritis of the knee and hip, and mental health issues like depression and anxiety.
Obesity has a direct impact on the development of many musculoskeletal disorders including chronic low back pain, disc degeneration, sciatica and osteoarthritis (OA), a highly disabling progressive degenerative disease of the joints – especially hips and knees. According to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, carrying just 10 pounds of extra weight puts an extra 40 to 60 pounds of pressure on each knee. Individuals with obesity are 20 times more likely to need a knee replacement than those who are not overweight.
According to the Arthritis Foundation, incidence of OA, the most common type of arthritis, is increasing. This is directly attributable to the increasing prevalence of obesity. Having obesity makes the development of OA more likely and the disease can get worse if you have it. The risk of knee OA is five times higher in women with obesity and four times higher for men with obesity.
Total knee and/or hip replacement surgery has become the last resort treatment for people with severe OA. Estimates suggest that 80% - 95% of people needing total joint replacement surgery also were overweight or had obesity. With the incidence of obesity increasing and the population aging, the economic burden could be significant.
Mental Health and Depression
Studies have found a complex, two-way relationship between obesity and mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety. Data showed that 43% of adults with depression have obesity. An inverse relationship also exists – according to a recent meta-analysis, in patients with obesity, there is a 55% increased risk in developing depression over time. Research that a higher BMI causes increased risk of having depression and lowers well-being scores. As such, mental health considerations should be a key factor in the development of any weight management intervention.
Screening for both obesity and mental health issues is important in the evaluation, diagnosis and treatment of both conditions. For example, identifying and treating depression can lead to more successful weight loss and weight loss often improves symptoms of depression and anxiety.
A better understanding of the link between obesity and mental health issues helps health providers and mental health professionals identify appropriate, effective, individualized interventions. Unfortunately, few interventions address both simultaneously.