A sizeable proportion of Americans are dealing with obesity-related chronic diseases. People who are overweight or obese are at higher risk of a variety of conditions that include coronary heart disease (affecting 17.6 million American adults), diabetes (about 17 million adults, most of whom have type 2 diabetes), and high blood pressure (one-third of American adults). Sleep apnea, osteoarthritis, stroke, and obesity-related cancer affect millions more.
Chronic conditions linked to obesity can be expensive to treat. They can reduce your quality of life and even lead to an early death. That's the bad news. But here's the good news: You can take steps to reduce the impact that these diseases have on your life, both on your own and working with your doctor.
Ask what you can do to stay healthy. For most people, obesity-related diseases develop over years. As a result, a few trips to the doctor's office or hospital aren't typically going to completely fix the problem. However, the effort you put into changing your lifestyle, day in and day out, can make a big difference. So ask your doctor what you can do under your own power to make a difference in your health. Several helpful tips include:
-Get down to a healthy weight. Ask your doctor what weight would be ideal for you. Ask whether your chronic condition will affect your ability to safely exercise or change your diet. If it does, ask your doctor which kinds of exercises or diet changes you can safely begin. And ask if the doctor can recommend a dietitian or exercise professional for you to visit.
-Keep track of your numbers. If you have high blood pressure or diabetes, discuss whether you should monitor your blood pressure or blood sugar regularly. If so, simple devices will allow you to track your numbers at home. Keep a record of your measurements, which can help your doctor adjust your medications if necessary.
-Stick to the treatment. An issue that affects many people's ability to keep their chronic diseases in check is nonadherence. This simply means that they're not sticking to their doctor's recommendations. People may stop taking their blood pressure medicine over time or abandon the pressurized-air mask that helps them sleep despite apnea, for example.
-People abandon their treatments for many reasons: they can't afford a drug, they don't like the side effects of a treatment, or they don't feel like it's working. For many chronic diseases, though, you need to use the treatment for years or even decades. As a result, when your doctor recommends a drug or other approach for a chronic disease, try to make sure it's something you can stick with before you leave the office. If you think you can't afford a drug, say so. Your doctor may be able to prescribe a cheaper one. If you later discover that you're having a hard time sticking with a treatment due to inconvenience or other issues, go back and discuss it with your doctor instead of just abandoning it.
More tips can be found in my upcoming book, The New Prescription, available May 2011.