One of the common complications of obesity is damage to the cardiovascular system, according to Drs. Morris B. Green and Max Beckman.1 They point out that abnormal electrocardiographic changes in their obese patients with hardening of the arteries were eight times as frequent as in their non obese with hardening of the arteries.
Studies carried on by life insurance companies over an extensive period of time have proved conclusively that excess weight is not only dangerous to the heart and the vascular system, but also to all other vital organs of the body and is, therefore, a menace to health from every point of view.
Dr. Louis I. Dublin, Chief Statistician of the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company, in one of his reports on the subject, said: A recent study among employees of the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company showed that elevation of the blood pressure was more than twice as frequent at ages 45 to 54 and three times as frequent at the ages of 35 to 44 among those of heavy build as among those of light build.2
You will notice that excess weight is considerably more dangerous in the thirty-five to forty-four than in the forty-five to fifty-four age groups. This is clearly in line with the greater increase in mortality from heart and vascular diseases in these age groups, and undoubtedly one of the factors responsible for it.
One Metropolitan study, which included 50,000 men and women, showed that mortality from disease of the heart and vascular system were 50 per cent higher in men and 75 per cent higher in women who were obese over those who were not.
Dr. Dublin reported that another study, based on a sample of 74,000 industrial workers, showed at every age and among both men and women a steady increase in the average blood pressure with increase in weight. He noted also that Among Army officers, a group of men who were initially carefully selected and on whom careful medical observation was continued as long as they were in service, the rate of development of high blood pressure was about two and a half times as high in those who were overweight as in those who were not.
But high blood pressure is not the only penalty of obesity. Dr. Dublin pointed out that four-fifths of those who develop diabetes after forty are overweight, that gallbladder disease is found more frequently among the overweight, and that obesity is an important contributing factor in the development of degenerative arthritis, one of the most common diseases of middle and later life.
Dr. W. H. Sebrell, Jr., Director of the National Institute of Health, is another of the many who emphasise that obesity is the number one nutrition problem in the United States. He points out that the significance of this is apparent from the fact that mortality rates for the obese are well above average at every age, and rise steadily with increasing weight.3
James Rorty, referring to insurance company findings, pointed out that persons who are but 10 per cent overweight have a 20 per cent greater chance of dying prematurely than those whose weights are normal. If one is 15 to 25 per cent overweight, his chance of dying prematurely is 44 per cent greater than the average. And, above 25 per cent overweight, ones chances of living as long an ones normal contemporaries are only one in four.4
Dealing with the effect of overweight in”cardiovascular diseases, Rorty mentioned that life insurance companies have proved that overweight increases the mortality by 62 per cent; and continued by quoting Dr. Stieglitz, author of The Second Forty Years who believes that more than half the cases of heart exhaustion in later years are due to obesity.
Strange as it may seem, doctors as a class are more overweight than persons engaged in most other professions. Dr. Donald B. Armstrong, Vice-President of the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company, reported this fact at the convention of the American Medical Association, June 12, 1951, and belabored his obese colleagues for failing to do something about it.
Some years ago, a physician connected with one of the life insurance companies came into our office and, noticing a scale in the corner, stepped on it to weigh himself. He tipped the scale at 200 pounds.
Doctor, why dont you reduce? we asked him.
I dont seem to be able to do it, he replied almost apologetically.
Its simple; all you have to do is eat less.
He hemmed and hawed, and finally came up with the answer that he was working too hard and therefore could not control his appetite.
Dr. Edward L. Bortz must have had a doctor like this one in mind when he remarked that were going to have to take off the kid gloves in dealing with people who are wallowing in their own grease.
One of the most interesting cases of overweight that we remember was that of a physician who weighed about 280 to 290 pounds, and who, because of his weight, was dubbed by his friends The Man Mountain.
The first time we met the man mountain was at a restaurant. When we ordered a fruit salads he ordered the same, but he later confessed that in all his life he had never thought of ordering a fruit salad.
We would frequently visit patients together, and once, while on a trip, we stopped the car to buy some fruit. He was, at that time, dieting, for it was obvious, even to himself, that he was getting sicker by the day.
He too stepped out of the car, ostensibly to make a telephone call. But when he returned from the store, mustard was dripping from his lips. Evidently the telephone call was but an excuse for grabbing a hot dog on the run.
Once he became very ill. He could hardly breathe and his legs swelled up like balloons. He knew that his heart and kidneys were in bad shape. We pleaded with him. Doctor.