Chapter 6 – Body Composition

Diseases Associated with Excessive Body Fat

According to the National Institute of Health (NIH), a wide array of diseases can be linked to excessive body fat.2 Some of them are:

  • Type II Diabetes Mellitus
  • Hypertension
  • Cancer
  • Cerebrovascular Disease (Stroke)
  • Cardiovascular Disease
  • Metabolic Syndrome
  • Lung Disorders
  • Sleep Apnea
  • Asthma
  • Musculoskeletal Diseases
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Gout
  • Gallbladder Disease
  • Pancreatitis
  • Non-Alcohol Fatty Liver Disease
  • Dementia
  • Psychological Problems and Quality of Life
  • Kidney Disease
  • Pregnancy Problems

How Much Fat is Needed?

Fat is a necessary component of daily nutrition. It is needed for healthy cellular function, energy, cushioning for vital organs, insulation, and for food flavor.

Fat storage in the body consists of two types of fat: essential and nonessential fat. Essential fat is the minimal amount of fat necessary for normal physiological function. For males and females, essential fat values are typically considered to be 3% and 12%, respectively. Fat above the minimal amount is referred to as nonessential fat. It is generally accepted that an overall range of 10-22 percent for men and 20-32 percent for women is considered satisfactory for good health. A body composition within the recommended range suggests a person has less risk of developing obesity-related diseases, such as diabetes, high blood pressure, and even some cancers.

A woman’s essential fat range is naturally greater than a man’s because of fat deposits in breasts, uterus and sex-specific sites. In both males and females, non-essential fat reserves can be healthy, especially in providing substantial amounts of energy.

Excessive body fat is categorized by the terms overweight and obesity. These terms do not implicate social status or physical attractiveness, but rather indicate health risks. Overweight is defined as the accumulation of non-essential body fat to the point that it adversely affects health. According to the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), the threshold for being characterized as overweight is having a body composition of FM greater than 32% and 19% for females and males, aged 20-39, respectively.3

Obesity is characterized by excessive accumulation of body fat and can be defined as a more serious degree of being overweight. Classifications of obesity begin at body composition of FM greater than 39% and 25% in females and males ages 20-39, respectively. 4

Other Health Risks

Diseases are not the only concern with an unhealthy body fat percentage. Several others are listed below.

Performance of physical activity

An important component of a healthy lifestyle and weight management is regular physical activity and exercise. To the contrary, those who live a sedentary lifestyle will find it more difficult to maintain a healthy body weight or develop adequate musculature, endurance, and flexibility. Unfortunately, additional body weight makes it more difficult to be active because it requires more energy and places a higher demand on weak muscles and the cardiovascular system. The result is a self-perpetuating cycle of inactivity leading to more body weight, which leads to more inactivity.

Emotional wellness

Studies indicate obesity is associated with a 25% increase in anxiety and mood disorders, regardless of age or gender. Other studies suggest increases in BMI significantly increase the incidence of personality disorders and anxiety and mood disorders. Additional studies have been able to associate a higher incidence of psychological disorders and suicidal tendencies in obese females compared with obese males.5

Pre-mature death

The association between obesity and diseases, such as cancer, CVD, and diabetes, suggests that people with more body fat generally have shorter lifespans. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) estimates up to 365,000 deaths each year can be linked with obesity, representing nearly 15% of all deaths. Other studies have tied the Years of Life Lost to body mass index measurements, estimating anywhere from 2 to 20 years can be lost, depending on ethnicity, age at time of obese classification, and gender.6

Economic impact

The physical harm caused by obesity and overweight is mirrored by its economic impact on the health care system. The CDC has estimated the medical costs to be about $147 billion in 2008, which includes preventative, diagnostic, and treatments. Overweight and obesity also contribute to loss of productivity at work through absenteeism and presenteeism, defined as being less productive while working. The annual nationwide productive costs fall within the range of from $3.38 to $6.38 billion.7



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Health and Fitness for Life Copyright © 2019 by Dawn Markell and Diane Peterson is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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