January 1, 2009 Sociologists found a direct relationship between obesity and duration and frequency of hospital stays. Researchers found that, on average, obese persons stayed one and a half days longer than those with normal weight. Sociologists attribute the connection to disease--46 percent of obese adults have high blood pressure. Obesity is also linked to an increased risk of heart disease, diabetes, stroke and other illnesses. The researchers also note that the longer a person has been obese, the more likely their hospital stay is lengthened.
The numbers on our nation's scales are going up. A recent study puts Mississippi at the top of the list with the highest rate of adult obesity in the country. New research shows how extra weight is adding up to longer hospital stays.
Annette Armstead knows what it takes to stay healthy. Before she started exercising, she weighed 225 pounds.
"I was tired of people telling fat jokes," said Armstead. "I was in pain all the time. I was so heavy that my knees would give out on me, and I was always falling down."
Obesity is linked with increased risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes and other illnesses.
"I had problems with arthritis and different health problems, and everything they were saying [indicated] I was too heavy and I needed to lose weight," Armstead said. A new study by sociologists at Purdue University found obesity also leads to more frequent and longer hospital stays.
"Obese people, on average, stay at least one to one and a half days longer than a normal-weight individual," said Ken Ferraro, Ph.D., a sociologist at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Ind.
The main reason for extra hospitalizations is disease. Forty-six percent of obese adults in the study had high blood pressure, and obese adults who have been overweight since childhood and carried extra weight into adulthood pay the highest price for being heavy.
"The longer the person is obese, the longer their stay in the hospital," Dr. Ferraro said.
Tackling obesity at a young age is crucial to staying out of the hospital later on.
"If you can tell other people that you're on a diet, a lot of them actually might help you to stay on that diet, but if you're silent to your friends, then obviously they can't support you," Dr. Ferraro advised.
Armstead credits her weight loss to diet and exercise and has never felt better.
"I feel healthier at 55 than I did at 25," she said.
ABOUT TYPE II DIABETES: Type II diabetes is the most common form of diabetes. In this form of the disease, either the body does not produce enough insulin, or the cells in the body ignore insulin. This can stop glucose from moving out of the bloodstream and into cells. Cells need the energy that glucose provides, and too much sugar in the blood can cause damage to the eyes, nerves, kidneys, or heart. These complications are very similar to the threats from type I diabetes, though type II can sometimes be treated with medications and diet instead of insulin (obtained through injections or in an inhaled form).
WHAT IS BLOOD PRESSURE: Blood pressure is the force in the arteries when the heart beats, and when the heart is at rest. When blood pressure is high, there is an increased risk of heart disease (which leads to heart attack) and stroke. It is most common in adults over age 35, and is especially prevalent in African Americans, the middle-aged and elderly, obese people, heavy drinkers, and women who are taking birth control pills. Those with diabetes, gout or kidney disease are also prone to suffer from high blood pressure.
WHAT CAUSES HEART ATTACKS: Heart attack is the leading cause of death in North and South America and in Europe. It is usually the result of prolonged hardening and narrowing of the arteries that direct blood into the heart. When blood vessels are healthy, oxygen-rich blood flows easily to all the muscles and organs of the body. But if they become clogged by the buildup of fatty deposits on vessel walls, blood can be cut off, killing heart muscle cells. This is called coronary heart disease, and it can lead to heart attacks or strokes.
The American Sociological Association contributed to the information contained in the TV portion of this report.
Editor's Note: This article is not intended to provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.