Why is OBESITY associated with so many Diseases?

We are constantly reminded that obesity1 is associated with many different diseases, from high blood pressure and heart disease, from cancer and diabetes, to ulcers, skin infections, gallstones, gastritis, gingivitis, glaucoma, and gout – to name just a few…


Why is obesity associated with so many diseases?

Every disease is caused by one or more deficiencies or excesses. Every disease that is associated with obesity has a cause. Obesity is NOT the cause.

Is obesity a disease? According to Scott Kahan, writing for the Huffington Post, it is a disease. Scott bases his article on conventional wisdom. Unfortunately, his stated cause of obesity, “consumption of more calories than are “burned off” by movement and metabolism” is not just simplistic, it is simply wrong.

Many expects do not classify obesity as a disease.  Wiki notes that obesity is associated with many diseases, but does not call it a disease – at this time (Wiki is subject to change over time). Wiki gets the cause wrong as well, but is a bit more careful, saying “At an individual level, a combination of excessive food energy intake and a lack of physical activity is thought to explain most cases of obesity“.

What are the causes of obesity?

Some simple diseases are caused by single deficiencies.  Each Vitamin was identified as ‘vital’ because deficiencies result in specific diseases. Deficiency of water results in dehydration and deficiency of food results in starvation.  Although we don’t call starvation a disease, people who are suffering from starvation suffer a cluster of ‘related diseases’, because they are suffering from many deficiencies.

Other simple diseases are caused by single excess. All foods are toxic in excess, and people have died from drinking too much water. Children can easily get diarrhea from eating too much fruit. Adults don’t usually make that mistake (again). Many foods from nature contain toxins, designed to fight insects and other pests, that can cause illness when consumed excessively.  Many of our supermarket foods are treated with pesticides and preservative chemicals, which are also toxic in excess.

It’s easy to assume that people who are obese are suffering from many excesses.

A useful assumption.  But like many assumptions – only partly right. Partly wrong.  People who are obese suffer from many excesses. They eat too much of some foods, and these excesses cause obesity and can also cause many associated diseases.

But… People who are obese also suffer from deficiencies. Obesity is not just a disease of excess.  It is a disease of imbalances. It is also a disease of malnutrition, a disease of deficiencies.What deficiencies do obese people typically suffer from? There are few studies – even though it is well known that obese people are often malnourished. Wired magazine reported that “A new survey finds that one in three homeless people in Boston are clinically obese,” in an articled titled “Homeless and Overweight: Obesity Is the New Malnutrition.” Poor, malnourished people are more likely to be obese than healthier, wealthier people.

Does obesity ’cause’ disease?  No it does not. Obesity is associated with many other diseases.  The causes of obesity, excessive consumption of some nutrients, and deficiencies in other nutrients cause unhealthinesses, which grow more and more serious until one or more diseases are diagnosed.

We might learn something by flipping the question: Do the diseases that are associated with obesity cause obesity? Which came first, the chicken or the egg?

Does heart disease cause obesity, or does obesity cause heart disease? Or is it something else?

Does diabetes cause obesity, or does obesity cause diabetes?  Or is it something else?

Does cancer cause obesity, or does obesity cause cancer?  Or is it something else?

It is clearly ‘something else’. 

Not all obese people get heart disease, diabetes and cancer.  Not all people with cancer, diabetes and cancer are obese.

Some factors that cause heart disease can also cause obesity. Some factors that cause diabetes can also cause obesity.  Some factors that cause cancer can also cause obesity.  Or you can write it the other way.  Factors that cause obesity can also cause heart disease. Factors that cause obesity can also cause diabetes. Factors that cause obesity can also cause cancer.

But which factors?  Which deficiencies and which excesses that cause heart disease also cause obesity? Which deficiencies and which excesses that cause diabetes also cause obesity? Which deficiencies and which excesses that cause cancer also cause obesity?

Our medical systems prefer to treat ‘medical conditions’ and ‘diseases’, not causes. For many medical conditions, this approach is more efficient and effective. If your child breaks a leg on the playground, treat the condition. The cause is only relevant when you are designing playgrounds. If you are infected by a parasite – attack the parasite. The cause is only relevant if you want to prevent these parasite attacks. But for some illnesses, treating medical conditions is the wrong approach.

In the case of ‘chronic medical conditions‘, like obesity, heart disease, diabetes, and cancer – attacking the disease is irresponsible.  Attacking the disease, without researching and addressing the cause in each individual case – simply allows more disease to occur.

Attacking heart disease with statins, allows the condition that caused the heart disease to continue – and might make it worse.  Attacking cancer with chemotherapy allows the conditions that caused the cancer to continue – and can make them worse.

So why do our medical systems attack chronic disease with medicines that ignore the cause?  Because it’s quick and easy.  And it is a money making proposition. Sell the “cure”, even if it doesn’t cure.  Sell the “search for the cure” as well.

Finding the cause of an individual person’s chronic disease is difficult and expensive. And it doesn’t pay.  It doesn’t make money for the doctor, nor for any drug marketer. It is very difficult to measure and evaluate the nutrient deficiencies of an individual patient. There are no medical tests that effectively evaluate overall nutrient healthiness. It is more difficult to analyze the 5 year, or 10 year diet of an individual.  I don’t remember what types of foods, in what proportions, 5 or 10 years ago. It takes 5 or 10 years to develop heart disease, cancer, diabetes – and obesity.  People don’t just forget what food they ate, they lie as well.

For a chronic disease – finding the cause, the ongoing cause, is critical for the patient’s long term health. When our medical systems attack ‘obesity’ without searching for individual causes, they are failing in their responsibility. They are attacking illness but ignoring healthiness.  Like attacking war, while ignoring opportunities for peace.

Obesity is caused by specific deficiencies and specific excesses.  But no one is identifying much less addressing the unhealthinesses that cause individual cases of obesity.

What are we doing?  We are blaming the patient.  You are overweight.  It’s your fault, go on a diet and get some exercise. Which leads to “you have heart disease, it’s your fault – buy some statins” and “you have diabetes, it’s your fault, buy some insulin” and “you have cancer, it’s your fault – buy some chemotherapy — maybe your insurance will pay for it.”

And in each case, the patient is allowed, even encouraged, to continue the actions that caused the heart disease, the diabetes, the cancer. Because no-one identifies the cause. We do the same with arthritis and many other chronic diseases.

Don’t confuse ‘blame’ with ’cause’.  There is lots of ‘blame’ for chronic diseases.  You’re overweight – you eat too many calories. You have diabetes – maybe it’s your genetics.  You have cancer?  Maybe it’s the pesticides, the bottled water, the GMO foods.  Blame, blame, blame.  Blame is not cause.

There are other types of illness associated with obesity.  Illnesses of the spirit, and illnesses of the community are poorly categorized and poorly understood by our medical systems.    Our medical systems stop studying the hierarchy of healthicine (genetics, nutrients, cells, tissues, organs, systems, body, mind, spirit, and community) at the layer of ‘mind’, ignoring SPIRIT and COMMUNITY healthiness and illnesses.  There are many genetic illnesses, cellular illnesses, kidney illnesses, and mental illnesses.  Illnesses exist throughout the layers of the hierarchy of healthicine – except the spirit and the community. There are no illnesses classified as illness of the spirit, nor are there illnesses classified as illnesses of the community.

Obesity and the well known associated diseases, are also with chronic depression – an illness of the spirit.  The medical community ignores illness of the spirit – so they call it an illness of the mind.   The medical community also ignores illnesses of the community.   Sociopathy (also known as psychopathy) is a community illness that has been found to be strongly linked to obesity.

It’s wrong to blame the individual, the patient for an illness of the spirit, or a community illness.  Expecting them to make the necessary changes themselves, “go on a diet, get some exercise you lazy bum…” is ineffective and nonsensical in those cases.

If you have cancer, maybe you think it doesn’t matter.  The cause doesn’t matter – you just want the cure.  You’ll walk for the cure, talk for the cure, run for the cure, make ribbons for the cure.

I believe the cure for cancer cannot be found by searching for the cure. It can only be found in searching for the cause.  By searching for health. The cure for obesity cannot be found searching for the cure, it can only be found by searching for the cause. There are general causes – you can find proof that anything and everything causes cancer. We need to search for specific causes, for each person, if we want to heal obesity, and cancer.

Cures for chronic illness can only be found by searching for health.

Cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and obesity are ‘chronic’ diseases.  There are no cures for ‘chronic diseases’, by definition.  They are caused by ongoing conditions – and as long as those conditions continue – the disease will continue to be, and to grow.

Only when we find, and fight, the individual causes will we defeat a chronic disease.

So, why is obesity associated with so many diseases? Obesity, and many chronic illnesses have common causes that persist over long periods of time. This allows unhealthiness to grow slowly, undetected.  Eventually, it seems like the illness ‘appears out of nowhere’.  He was perfectly healthy, and then he was struck down by cancer, a heart attack, a stroke.

If we can defeat obesity, will we defeat the associated diseases?  Yes, we when learn to fight obesity by tackling the causes.  When we learn to tackle the causes of chronic disease – we will learn to heal chronic disease before it is diagnosed.

There will be no need to cure chronic disease when we learn to pursue healthiness instead of pursuing disease.

Everyone has a right to life, liberty and the pursuit of healthiness.
to your health, tracy

Founder: Healthicine.org and Personal Health Freedom

Note: in this post, I use the word ‘obesity’ although the material is relevant to excessive weight in general. I use the word obesity to simplify the text. It is also important to understand that guidelines for “healthy weight” are poorly studied, from a scientific perspective. eg. It has recently demonstrated that people who are ‘slightly overweight’ may actually be healthier than those who have a ‘healthy weight’ according to government guidelines of the US FDA and Health Canada.



About Tracy Kolenchuk

Founder of Healthicine.org. Author of two books about healthicine; Healthicine: The Arts and Sciences of Health and Healthiness Healthicine: Introduction to Healthicine
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  • Roger Bird

    Symptoms can become causes can become symptoms can become causes. Sometimes symptoms will kill and need to be addressed. But I have never found a situation where the cause could not be addressed while a symptom was being removed. Unfortunately, the MD jerk-wads only go after the symptoms; it pays better.

    • Tracy Kolenchuk

      Roger, you’re making me think too hard.. I’ve actually tried a few times to put down my thoughts on symptoms… Where are the lines between symptoms, healthiness, illness, side effects, etc. It’s all very confusing. Your comment that “symptoms can become causes can become symptoms can become causes” is very true and serves to make me more confused, hopefully at a higher level and about more important things! THANKS! tracy

      • Roger Bird

        Tracy, I have a messed up L-5 to S-1 connection. The two are tipped together with a herniation. It causes intense pain. Pain is inflammation, which causes other problems. The pain is also stressful, which puts demands on my adrenal glands. This wastes my adrenal chi. The L-5 to S-1 problem is ultimately the result of wasted chi from drug use in the late 1960’s and wasteful sexual behavior since early youth. So you see a vicious circle. The wasted chi caused a chiropractic problem (among other problems). The chiropractic problem causes a lot of pain. The pain causes stress. The stress wastes chi. The loss of chi . . . . Do you see? Somehow the vicious circle has to be broken. In this case, perhaps, even pharmaceuticals pain killers might help break the cycle, as long as I don’t over use the pharmaceutical pain killers. (I have only used aspirin a handful of times in two months of pain.) Chiropractic helps, but I did not fall down to cause this problem. It was because of aging and a gradual lose of chi. I am going to a practitioner of Traditional Chinese Medicine and doing yoga to build up my chi, and a chiropractor to break the vicious circle at a different point.

        I am going to go out on a limb and say that every disease is the result of a lot of causes and a result of a lot of symptoms. A symptom is just another word for a cause, and a cause is just another word for a symptom. But if one only deals with the obvious symptom and doesn’t go after deeper “symptoms” or causes, then one is impeding one’s healing greatly.

  • Thank you for a very thought provoking and intelligent look. Our society just loves to blame an individual for their weight. It has been shown that continual ‘dieting’ which is promoted everywhere, is NOT a solution to unhealthy eating and diseases. It’s fine to be big – let what you eat be healthy, and be what size you are meant to be.

    • Tracy Kolenchuk

      Ann, great to hear from you. Thanks for the comment. I agree with you, it’s not how big you are – it’s more important to eat healthy. Unfortunately, it is getting more and more expensive to eat healthy, or is it just less and less expensive to eat unhealthy?

  • I have to disagree with ann some peoples genetics are not the best but this meens surly they just have to try harder then others to keep weight down , not simply live with the fact they are destined to be big? There is enough research out there to show being overweight is not healthy? and yes a balanced diet will reduce this but so does exercise . I say be happy when you are the right weight for your BMI not just what you personally think

    • Jill, the BMI is notoriously skewed and inaccurate as an indicator of healthy weight. For example, mixed martial artist Alistair Overeem is 6’5″ and 273 pounds, which gives him a BMI of 31.2 and puts him in the obese range. Google his picture and tell me that man is obese.

      One problem with BMI is that it considers all mass to be equal–fat, muscle, organs, bones, water, etc. So a pot bellied couch potato with a size 10 liver could get a stellar BMI while a muscular athlete would most likely be considered overweight (and perhaps obese during the off season!).

      Another problem with the BMI is that it fails to take body type into consideration–a large framed person is more likely to outweigh a thin-framed person of the same height, irregardless of which individual is carrying more excess body fat.

      The BMI, then, attempts to put everyone on the same scale, even though the variety of shapes and sizes people come in belies the possibility of judging everyone by the same standard.

  • Tracy Kolenchuk

    Thanks for the comment Harvey. I”ll see you, and raise you one. BMI is not just an inaccurate indicator of healthy weight, it is also a poor indicator of health – sometimes even when it is a good indicator of overweight.. We often assume that the person who is overweight is ‘less healthy’, but this is often not the case, and we have no way to tell which are those cases. .