While studies have linked obesity to serious cardiovascular diseases including strokes and heart attacks, University of Toronto researchers have found that overeating can damage overall health - from slower thinking to experiencing more pain.
"This study demonstrates that obesity has a daily impact on every aspect of an individual's well-being," says the study's lead author, Kostas Trakas, a PhD candidate in pharmacology at the University of Toronto and Sunnybrook and Women's College Health Sciences Centre. Figures from Statistics Canada's National Population Health Survey were used to analyse the overall well-being of Canadians from 1996 to 1997. The national sample was drawn from 38,151 respondents, taking into account gender, weight, smoking status, educational level, household income and other factors generally associated with heavier weight.
Overweight and obese people reported slower cognitive abilities, increased pain and limited mobility among other ailments. About one out of every seven Canadians is obese, but weight has a bigger impact on women than on men. "Women view their own health state as poor if they're overweight while men perceive their health to be compromised once they become morbid obese," says Trakas. Men rated the severity of obesity alongside migraines, but women said it is more serious than being diabetic or having a stroke.
Dr. Neil Shear, head of clinical pharmacology in U of T's Faculty of Medicine and director of the Drug Safety Clinic at Sunnybrook and Women's, was surprised at the magnitude of the impact of obesity on people's lives. "Doctors should treat obesity as an illness, not as a lifestyle change," he says. "Instead of treating each symptom of obesity, physicians need to look at it as a global problem when examining their patients," he says.
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