JUL 23, 2018 3:30 PM PDT

Obesity Associated Inflammation Leads to Chronic Health Issues

WRITTEN BY: Caitlin Williams

Worldwide obesity has almost tripled since 1975, with more than 1.9 billion adults and 41 million children under the age of 5 being overweight or obese in 2016. Most of the world’s population lives in countries where overweight and obesity are linked to more deaths than underweight. This leads to major risk factors for cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, musculoskeletal disorders and some cancers. New research sheds lights on why obesity causes harmful inflammation that can lead to noncommunicable disease.

Overweight and obese are determined by your body mass index (BMI), which is a simple index of weight-height calculated by a person’s weight in kilograms divided by the square of the person's height in meters. Based on the World Health Organization (WHO), adults with a BMI greater than or equal to 25 are considered overweight while those with a BMI greater than or equal to 30 are considered obese. Obesity is a complex health issue caused by a combination of factors such as behavior, environment, and genetics. Healthy behaviors include a balanced diet and regular physical activity, these decisions may be based on your environment or community. Community environments that lack sidewalks, safe bike trails or playgrounds make it more difficult to maintain a certain level of physical activity. Lack of access to healthy and affordable foods, such as fruits and vegetables, in your environment, make a balanced diet difficult to obtain. Genetics can also influence obesity, scientists have identified gene variants that may play a role in increasing hunger and food intake.

People who have obesity are at a higher risk for serious disease and health conditions compared to their healthy weight counterparts. Obesity causes harmful inflammation that can lead to serious diseases such as diabetes and heart disease. Researchers at the University of Virginia School of Medicine shed some light on how this inflammation occurs. Immune cells found in fat tissues, that are usually beneficial, turn harmful during obesity. This leads to unwanted side effects such as unhealthy inflammation.

Dr. Norbert Leitinger, the lead of the research team, found that damaging free radicals produced by our bodies react with lipids inside of fat tissue. When attacked the lipids cause a natural immune response of inflammation, termed “lipid oxidation”. While these oxidized lipids are a normal occurrence in even healthy individuals, there are two types, one harmful and one beneficial. The shorter “truncated” oxidized lips are protective, while longer “full-length” ones are inflammatory and cause immune cells to become hyperactive. Researchers found that the ratio of full-length to truncated oxidized lipids was altered when comparing healthy and obese tissues, with obese tissues having higher ratios of "full-length" harmful oxidized lipids. By restoring the balance of oxidized lipids doctors may be able to fight chronic diseases that plague millions, with the possibility of developing drugs to reduce the number of harmful, full-length oxidized lipids and thereby reducing unhealthy inflammation. "Inflammation is important for your body's defenses, so you don't want to eliminate it completely," Leitinger said. "It's a question of finding the right balance."

To read this study click here. To learn more facts and statistics about obesity worldwide watch the video below.

World Health Organization, Center for Disease Control 

About the Author
  • Caitlin holds a doctorate degree in Microbiology from the University of Georgia where she studied Mycoplasma pneumoniae and its glycan receptors. She received her Bachelor's in Biology from Virginia Tech (GO HOKIES!). She has a passion for science communication and STEM education with a goal to improve science literacy. She enjoys topics related to human health, with a particular soft spot for pathogens.
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