Achieving Weight Loss

How Does Carrying Extra Body Fat Affect Your Health?

While stigmatizing people based on their body size is wrong, it’s equally important to be aware of the potential dangers of having too much body fat — especially on your cardiovascular health, blood glucose levels, and hormone signaling, among other things. 

Before diving into the effects of having excess amounts of fat, you should know that body fat is not inherently bad. In fact, it serves many important roles, such as:

  • Storing energy for fuel
  • Regulating your body temperature and generating heat
  • Producing hormones that regulate appetite (for example, leptin)
  • Protecting vital organs from physical trauma 

It goes without saying that low levels of body fat also have consequences. (But that’s a discussion for another day.) Today’s post focuses on the effects of a high body fat percentage. We’ll also discuss lifestyle choices that are proven to help with weight control. 

First, An Overview of Body Fat

Also called “adipose tissue,” body fat is found throughout your body — arms, abdomen, thighs, and deep within your abdominal cavity where it surrounds your major organs (e.g. heart, liver, pancreas, kidneys). 

The three types of adipose tissue are white, brown, and beige adipose tissue. It’s white adipose tissue that immediately comes to mind when referring to body fat, and for a reason: it’s the most abundant type of fat we carry. 

But perhaps the most important thing to remember is that too much visceral fat increases your risk of obesity-related conditions. For those who don’t know, visceral fat is the harmful type of white adipose tissue surrounding your vital organs. Visceral fat is commonly referred to as “belly fat.”

Gender Differences in Body Fat Percentage and Ranges for Men and Women

Using skinfold calipers is probably the most cost-effective (and easy method) of measuring body fat. Others include Dual-Energy X-ray Absorptiometry (DXA), which is more advanced, and hydrostatic weighing, which involves submerging your body in water. 

Since men and women differ biologically, they vary in their fat percentages. Generally speaking, women carry more body fat to support childbearing, while men have less body fat and more muscle mass. 

However, body composition can also differ from one person to another depending on their genetic makeup, the quality of their diet (whole foods versus highly processed foods), physical activity, age, and other lifestyle factors. 

According to the American Council on Exercise (ACE), these are the body fat norms for men and women:

Essential Fat
(the minimum amount of fat necessary for body function)
Athletes6-13% 14-20%

How Excess Body Fat Negatively Affects Your Health

Going beyond the healthy range of body fat — above 25% for men and 32% for women — puts a person in the obesity category. Obesity can lead to various health problems ranging from high blood pressure to an increased risk of cancer. Furthermore, it may trigger body image concerns in some individuals. 

Here’s more about the health problems associated with obesity:

High Blood Pressure 

Excess body fat, especially visceral fat, contributes to high blood pressure or hypertension through different mechanisms. 

One explanation is that adipose tissue releases all components of the renin-angiotensin system — the hormone system that regulates your blood pressure. Angiotensin, in particular, constricts blood vessels and causes sodium and fluid buildup. As a result, blood pressure increases.

Evidence also suggests that obesity can impair endothelial function by producing pro-inflammatory cytokines which favor inflammation. This leads to reduced dilation of your blood vessels, causing high blood pressure. 

Type 2 Diabetes (Adult onset or non-insulin-dependent diabetes) 

Another consequence of having too much body fat is a higher risk of Type 2 Diabetes. When you have this metabolic disorder, your body doesn’t properly respond to insulin. Because of this, glucose in your blood cannot enter your cells, causing them to rise. 

As a risk factor for Type 2 Diabetes, obesity promotes the release of higher amounts of non-esterified fatty acids, glycerol, hormones, and pro-inflammatory cytokines — all of which play a role in insulin resistance. 

The thing about Type 2 Diabetes is that you’re not born with it and that it develops over several years. Your lifestyle choices are largely responsible for speeding up its progression. 

Fertility Issues 

Men and women who are dealing with fertility problems will likely benefit from reducing their body fat. Weight loss helps males by increasing semen volume, concentration, and mobility, according to a randomized controlled trial. For females, it can boost their chances of getting pregnant by normalizing their menstrual cycle. 

Joint Pain

Did you know that carrying extra body fat can also affect your joints? Besides placing added stress on your knees and hips and increase wear and tear of your cartilage, it raises your risk of falls due to poor balance. 

Moreover, a 2022 review article in Frontiers in Immunology mentions obesity as the most important risk factor for the progression of osteoarthritis (OA) — the most common form of arthritis caused by joint overuse. 

Fatty Liver Disease

The inflammatory substances (adipokines) released by adipose tissue and insulin resistance promote fat storage in the liver, along with increased damage. 

In case you haven’t heard about non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), it’s a type of fatty liver problem that coexists with obesity and related disorders like Type 2 Diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease. 

Increased Risk of Cancer

According to the CDC, excess body fat may increase your risk of getting 13 types of cancer. Some of these cancers related to obesity include breast cancer, colon cancer, ovarian cancer, liver cancer, gallbladder cancer, and pancreatic cancer. 

The more weight a person carries and the longer they’ve been overweight, the higher their risk of cancer. This is because of the long-lasting inflammation that’s present and the higher levels of insulin. 

Mental Health Disorders

While this doesn’t happen to everyone, several reviews have suggested that 20-60% of individuals with obesity (especially extreme obesity) deal with a psychiatric disorder. These mental health issues include depression, eating disorders, substance abuse, and anxiety. 

People who are affected do not only experience difficulties with their physical functioning, but they also feel dissatisfied with their body image. 

Ways to Reduce Body Fat 

A combination of lifestyle changes is needed when approaching fat loss. Instead of aiming for quick results, which likely involves extreme strategies, focus on small adjustments that you can maintain. Here are some tips you can follow.

Seek guidance from a professional.

If you’re not sure where to start, consider getting advice from an expert, such as a registered dietician, nutritionist, or certified diet and nutrition coach. They can be incredibly helpful in terms of creating a personalized plan for you based on your medical condition, food preferences, and long-term goals. 

Furthermore, these experts are trained not just in nutrition science, but also in behavioral change. This means that they can help you become aware of behaviors that might hinder you from making lasting changes.

Focus on a nutrient-dense diet. 

You might be wondering how a diet that is rich in nutrients can help you lose weight. By getting the right amounts of protein, fat, carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals, you have lower chances of experiencing cravings that lead to overeating. 

Go for foods that are close to their natural state. Examples are eggs, green vegetables, berries, nuts, seeds, beef, poultry, and fatty fish. At the same time, limit your consumption of highly processed options, which are often high in empty calories and added sugar. 

Incorporate regular exercise. 

Any form of exercise is a helpful way to lose body fat. If you like brisk walking, running, cycling, and swimming — which are cardiovascular exercises — you’ll be glad to know that these are all effective for creating a calorie deficit. Furthermore, they boost your cardiovascular fitness. 

Resistance exercise or strength training, on the other hand, is a great way to burn more calories even at rest. At the same time, they preserve lean muscle while you’re losing weight. Examples include squats, push-ups, bicep curls, and other movements that involve dumbells and kettlebells. 

Final Thoughts 

As you’ve just learned, excess body fat has a profound impact on your health. Understanding how it contributes to hypertension, Type 2 Diabetes, infertility, and mental health concerns is the first step towards making informed choices to prioritize your health. Remember that fat loss involves a holistic approach!


  1. Richard, A. J. (2020, April 4). Adipose tissue: Physiology to Metabolic Dysfunction. Endotext – NCBI Bookshelf.
  2. Shuster, A., Patlas, M. N., Pinthus, J. H., & Mourtzakis, M. (2012). The clinical importance of visceral adiposity: a critical review of methods for visceral adipose tissue analysis. British Journal of Radiology, 85(1009), 1–10.
  3. ACE Fit | Percent Body Fat Calculator. (n.d.).
  4. Jiang, S., Li, W., Zong, X., Ruan, H., & Liu, Y. (2016). Obesity and hypertension. Experimental and Therapeutic Medicine, 12(4), 2395–2399.
  5. Wondmkun, Y. T. (2020). <p>Obesity, Insulin Resistance, and Type 2 Diabetes: Associations and Therapeutic Implications</p> Diabetes, Metabolic Syndrome and Obesity: Targets and Therapy, Volume 13, 3611–3616.
  6. Comparing the effectiveness of dietary vitamin C and exercise interventions on fertility parameters in normal obese men. (2016, April 16). PubMed.
  7. Weight, fertility, and pregnancy | Office on Women’s Health. (n.d.).
  8. Dutil, M., Handrigan, G., Corbeil, P., Cantin, V., Simoneau, M., Teasdale, N., & Hue, O. (2012). The impact of obesity on balance control in community-dwelling older women. Age, 35(3), 883–890.
  9. Nedunchezhiyan, U., Varughese, I., Sun, A. R., Wu, X., Crawford, R., & Prasadam, I. (2022). Obesity, inflammation, and immune system in osteoarthritis. Frontiers in Immunology, 13.
  10.  Francisco, V., Sanz, M., Real, J. T., Marques, P., Capuozzo, M., Eldjoudi, D. A., & Gualillo, O. (2022). Adipokines in Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease: Are We on the Road toward New Biomarkers and Therapeutic Targets? Biology, 11(8), 1237.
  11.  Godoy-Matos, A. F., Da Silva Júnior, W. S., & Valerio, C. M. (2020). NAFLD as a continuum: from obesity to metabolic syndrome and diabetes. Diabetology & Metabolic Syndrome, 12(1).
  12.  Obesity and Cancer | CDC. (n.d.).
  13.  Sarwer, D. B., & Polonsky, H. M. (2016). The psychosocial burden of obesity. Endocrinology and Metabolism Clinics of North America, 45(3), 677–688.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.