Bigger is not better when it comes to a woman's health. But that's what Dr. Madelyn Fernstrom is seeing at the Weight Management Center
at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center
. "In the last several years I've seen a big increase in not just the number of women [who are] seeking help, but they are larger and getting medically sicker."
What Dr. Fernstrom has observed is widespread across the United States. According to a study this week in the Journal of the American Medical Association, extremely obese women are at a significant higher risk of death, cardiovascular disease and diabetes.
Women who weigh about 50 kilos over the normal w
eight for a 1.6-meter tall woman are considered extremely obese and are at an 86 percent greater risk of death. Lead author Kathleen McTigue and colleagues at the University of Pittsburgh tracked 90,000 women over seven years. "It is important to understand how risk varies with increasing degree of weight," she says, "because in the past the risks associated with extreme obesity have been poorly known, because the condition was so rare."
The prevalence of extremely obese women in the United States differs among racial and ethnic groups with Asian Americans in the study having the lowest prevalence and African Americans the highest.
Kathleen McTigue says more accurate knowledge of weight-related risks could help decision makers form better health policies. She says it could also help provide better diagnosis and treatment for conditions associated with obesity, like diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol.