A shocking six out of ten Irish people are living with overweight or obesity (37 per cent have overweight and a further 23 per cent have obesity), according to the HSE, meaning we are facing a major epidemic, particularly in respect of the future strains on our already stretched health service.  


But, at a personal level, what are some of the health risks associated with carrying excess weight? And what could be the possible impact of even relatively modest weight loss, of around 5 to 10 per cent of our body weight (roughly 10 pounds for a 14 stone person)? Is it worth the effort?  



Unfortunately, carrying excess weight is a common problem for people with arthritis. Certain drugs, such as steroids, can lead to weight gain, and others, such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs), can lead to stomach problems, making dietary choices harder. Some people may find that their appetite increases, and others may struggle with fitting in physical activity or preparing fresh food during a flare-up, meaning that the weight can pile on relatively easily 


But did you know the impact that excess weight can actually have? The truth is that fat cells secrete hormones and other substances that can promote inflammation and we know that chronic inflammation is associated with many chronic diseases like diabetes, stroke and heart disease, as well as autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, psoriatic arthritis and other types of inflammatory arthritis.  


Also, osteoarthritis (OA) is usually thought of in terms of ‘wear and tear’, meaning it is related to ageing and changes in cartilage, but recent research suggests that inflammation plays a role in this form of arthritis too. In addition to the inflammation going on within the body, the extra weight will place extra pressure on joints and cartilage, causing them to wear away, meaning double the trouble.  

Type Two Diabetes

According to the results of the Nurses Health Study, involving 114,000 middle-aged women being followed for 14 years, more than 60 per cent of type two diabetes cases can be attributed to overweight or obesity. Obesity appears to cause cell changes in the body, making them resistant to the hormone insulin. Insulin carries sugar from blood to the cells, where it is used for energy. When a person is insulin resistant, the sugar in the bloodstream cannot be taken up by the cells, resulting in high blood sugar. In addition, the cells that produce insulin must work extra hard to try to keep blood sugar normal. This may cause these cells to gradually fail and long-term high blood sugar levels may result in damage to parts of the body where there are small blood vessels, such as the kidneys, eyes and feet 

Heart Disease

There are many risk-factors that increase your risk of heart disease and stroke. Some we have no control over, (eg. our family history, gender, or ethnicity). The good news is that 80% of premature heart disease and stroke is preventable through lifestyle changes alone. While there are many other pieces to the jigsaw that we call lifestyle, such as not smoking, having a healthy diet and being physically active, being a healthy weight is an important modifiable risk factor. Research shows that people living with overweight or obesity can make significant improvements to their blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar levels with even modest weight loss of 5% body weight. Find out more at the Irish Heart Foundation. 


The World Cancer Research Fund and the American Institute for Cancer Research have concluded that there is strong evidence of an association between overweight and obesity and 12 different types of cancers. Also, the longer that someone lives with obesity, the greater the risk. It isn't known exactly how obesity increases cancer risk. Fat cells may release hormones that affect cell growth, leading to cancer. Find out more at The Irish Cancer Society. 

Fatty Liver Disease 

This disease occurs when fat builds up in the liver and causes damage. Fatty liver disease may lead to severe liver damage, cirrhosis (scar tissue), or even liver failure. Fatty liver disease usually produces mild or no symptoms. It is similar to alcoholic liver disease, but it isn't caused by alcohol and can occur in people who drink little or no alcohol. Fatty liver disease is caused by a range of risk factors, including smoking, high blood pressure, type two diabetes and some medications, but overweight or obesity is the most common risk factor, particularly if the weight is distributed around your middle.  

Now the Good News...

Losing even small amounts of weight can boost health in more ways than one and, in some cases, it can even reverse or halt disease progression. The research shows that even if you don’t reach a weight or waist circumference deemed to be optimal, you can still be successful at improving your health, reducing your risk of chronic diseases, and improving your quality of life with a weight loss of just 5 per cent that equates to roughly 10 pounds for a 14-stone person  – if you are currrently living with overweight or obesity.  

Arthritis: Improved Symptoms

If you are carrying excess weight, even small reductions in weight can reduce strain on the hips, back, knees and feet. One study, published in Arthritis & Rheumatism, showed that losing excess weight can have a massive impact for anyone suffering from arthritis. This is particularly useful for those who suffer with OA, since there is no ‘cure’ as such.  


The study examined adults with overweight and obesity who had OA of the knee and found that losing just one pound of weight resulted in four pounds of pressure being removed from the knees. In other words, losing just 10 pounds would relieve an incredible 40 pounds of pressure from the knees. People living with overweight and obesity, who also have OA, report experiencing less pain and inflammation and better knee function after losing excess weight, making this a significant step forwards in the ability to control some aspects of the disease. Put simply, if you have arthritis and are living with overweight or obesity, losing weight is likely to improve your quality of life and it is often the most effective thing you can do to reduce the symptoms of arthritis. 

Cardiovascular Benefits

A 2011 study published in Diabetes Care found that people living with overweight or obesity who lost between 5 and 10 per cent of their body weight experienced significant improvements in their blood sugar control, blood pressure and cholesterol levels, reducing their risk of heart disease and stroke.  

Reduced Cancer Risk

A 2012 review looked at six weight loss studies in those who reported to be living with overweight or obesity, and five of these linked intentional weight loss with a reduced risk of cancer - read the study here. And one meta-analysis, carried out in 2017, showed that both physical activity and weight loss can reduce the risk of breast cancer in those living with overweight or obesity: read more here.   

Improved Sleep

According to a 2014 US study of people living with overweight/obesity, those who lost 5 per cent or more of their body weight reported sleeping about 22 minutes longer per night - and having better-quality sleep - read the full study here. We know that improved sleep has a host of health benefits, including improved memory and mood, as well as reduced inflammation in the body. Also, if you suffer from sleep apnoea, clinical trials suggest that modest weight loss can be helpful when treating the condition.  

Lowered Diabetes Risk

Researchers in the UK have shown, in a landmark 2017 study, that people with diabetes, who also report to be living with overweight or obesity can go into remission, just by losing weight. Nearly half of people in the study who were given a six-month diet plan* and lost an average of 30 pounds went into remission and no longer had diabetes. None took any medications during that time to control their disease and relied on weight loss alone - The Lancet.  


*Please note that some of these studies were conducted using very low-calorie diets, under medical supervision. These studies are included here to illustrate the effects of weight loss on health for those who are living with overweight or obesity. We are not recommending very low calories diets. Arthritis Ireland recommends a sensible, well balanced healthy diet.  

Reduced Risk of Fatty Liver  

There is good evidence that a programme of gradual weight loss and regular exercise can reduce the amount of fat in the liver and can delay progression of the disease if you already have it. In one 2014 study, losing weight seems to improve fatty liver disease - read more here.   

A Mood Boost

Many studies have shown that losing weight can help improve mood in those with overweight or obesity. In these individuals, losing excess weight led to them reporting improved energy, mood and a boost in self-confidence from even modest weight loss. This can translate into individuals wanting to become more physically active, which we know is a crucial piece of the self-management jigsaw when it comes to living the best life you can when dealing with a chronic condition such as arthritis.  


To summarise, even modest weight reduction can have far-reaching and positive effects on our health and wellbeing for those with overweight or obesity. Encouragingly, even relatively small amounts of weight loss can positively impact health for these people.  

We appreciate that losing weight can be a huge challenge, particularly for those dealing with increased appetite, as a result of medication, or the fatigue associated with living with arthritis. We also understand that the causes of obesity are complex, including environmental, biological, genetic, economic, social and individual factors. 

But it is important to know the positive impact that losing excess weight could have on your health so, if it is possible, embarking on a programme to lose excess weight, even if it is a small amount, is often something worthwhile doing. 

Have a read of our other blog on weight loss tips that can help you to kickstart the process, and to (hopefully) help you to feel supported and understood along the way. [https://www.arthritisireland.ie/7-tips-to-kickstart-weight-loss-this-autumn] 

Disclaimer: Please note that, as a result of losing weight, no individual should change or stop taking their medication unless under the consultation of an appropriate qualified medical professional.