Obesity and your feet
Obesity is very common, affecting one in six adults and one in 11 children worldwide, as of 2020. About one billion people around the world are living with obesity and it is estimated to increase to 1.9 billion by 2035. Overweight and obesity is expected to cost 2.9 percent of GDP by 2035. World Obesity Day is observed annually on March 4. Obesity is a disease caused by a variety of factors, including biology, mental health, genetic risk, environment, healthcare access, and access to ultra-processed food. It is about more than weight or ‘willpower’. People living with obesity may be at greater risk of other chronic diseases such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease and certain cancers.
Being overweight or obese is also associated with increased risk of pain and chronic problems in the feet and ankles, which can lead to problems in the knees, hips and back. No matter where on your body you carry extra weight, your feet and ankles end up bearing the load. A number of recent studies have found a direct link between body weight, increased body mass index (BMI) and foot and ankle problems. As little as one pound above your ideal weight can increase pressure in your hips, knees, ankles and feet.
Obesity rates are increasing in The Bahamas and around the world. In 2014, The Bahamas was ranked the sixth most obese country in the world. The 2019 STEPS survey showed that 27.9 percent of Bahamians were overweight with BMI 25 – 29 [men 35.2 percent vs. women 25.8 percent] and 43.7 percent obese with BMI ≥30, obese [men 31.8 percent vs. women 54.8 percent] for a total of 71.6 percent of Bahamians who are overweight and obese with an average BMI of 29.8. In another study, 40.8 percent of the respondents reported weight gain prior to the onset of foot pain. Obesity has a significant effect on foot pain, foot function, footwear fit and general foot health.
Extra weight creates extra pressure and strain on your feet, and can make standing and walking uncomfortable or painful. Being obese also stretches out and wears down the connective tissue and natural fat pads in your feet. Being overweight can also cause your posture and gait to change, which can affect your arches and tendons in the feet and ankles. Obesity-related symptoms in the feet can affect:
1. Foot pain: A survey by the American Podiatric Medical Association found foot pain and problems are a major deterrent to exercise. It is felt that foot pain contributes to making 72 percent of Americans fat. Obesity can lead to foot pain because of the increased body weight and stress on the foot. The pain often occurs on weight-bearing areas on the bottom of the foot as well as in the tendons, ligaments and joints.
2. Foot function: Obesity contributes to many musculoskeletal problems in the feet and ankles. The heel and toes take on more pressure, the arch and sides of the feet stretch out more, the bones are more apt to develop stress fractures, and shoes don’t fit or support the feet well. There are increased foot pressures with walking and standing and increased weight and contact with the ground. Simply walking up a flight of stairs or up an incline can increase pressure at the ankle by four to six times. The foot does not function at its best and one’s ability to exercise is limited. Several common foot problems may develop including posterior tibial tendonitis and dysfunction, plantar fasciitis, ingrown toenails, arthritis, gout, fungal infections, diabetes, venous insufficiency, and peripheral arterial disease.
3. Footwear: Often times for persons who are obese, comfortable and appropriate footwear is more difficult to find. Further, extra wide shoes are not always available and the available shoe styles may not support the weight or the so-called “fat shoes” are not attractive or stylish.
Foot pain, foot function and footwear can all affect the overall general health of the feet and the body. However, there are many steps you can take to have healthy feet and improve your overall health.
Weight control is an essential component in reducing foot pain. Physical activity is vital for weight loss and overall healthy living. Before starting any exercise program, see your physician for a complete physical exam and the podiatrist for a foot and shoe evaluation. Start with low-impact or off-weight aerobic activities, such as water aerobics, weight lifting, bike riding, swimming, etc. Start exercising slowly and gradually increase the time and distance. Avoid activities that cause pain, stop if you have foot pain, and see the podiatrist to have your feet checked out. Walking is the best exercise for most persons because almost everyone can do it, there is no special equipment, and you can do it all year round. What goes in your mouth also affects your weight and your health. Make healthy food choices and decrease the quantities of calories eaten.
Shoes also play a major role in preventing foot pain and improving foot function. The best shoe for you is the one that fits you the best. It is imperative to always try on your shoes before buying them. The best shoe for you has proper support, flexibility, cushioning and compensates for any foot problems you may have. Shoes should be checked for wear and tear and changed regularly. When starting an exercise program, you may experience some foot pain. See a podiatrist right away if you have pain, swelling or injury to your foot, or if there is a change in the shape and function of your foot, foot deformity or any foot complaint.
• For more information on obesity and your feet email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.foothealth.org or apma.org. To see a podiatrist visit Bahamas Surgical Associates Centre Hilltop Medical or call 603-1814/15/16 for an appointment. In Grand Bahama, call 373-7400 for an appointment or visit us at Lucayan Medical Centre on East Sunrise Highway.