The Harmful Effects of Obesity on Our Eyesight and How to Prevent Them

One of the lesser-known effects of obesity is vision loss. Find out how you can maintain a healthy weight and protect your eyes at the same time!

An overweight man in glasses exercising with lush trees in the background

The effects of obesity are more extensive than you might think. Most people are already aware that obesity can lead to other potentially deadly illnesses, particularly cardiovascular diseases like heart disease and stroke.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), obesity is also a risk factor for diabetes and musculoskeletal disorders like osteoarthritis. Furthermore, it’s been linked to endometrial, breast, ovarian, prostate, liver, gallbladder, kidney and colon cancers 

Out of the long list of effects of obesity, perhaps the least known is eye disease. How do the two conditions relate to one another? Here, we will look at the correlation between excess weight and deteriorating vision health. This article will also explore ways to maintain an ideal weight and take better care of the eyes. 

Effects of Obesity on Eye Health 

WHO defines obesity and overweight as abnormal or excessive fat accumulation that presents a risk to health. A person is usually considered obese when their body mass index (BMI) is over 30.

In Asia, a BMI of 27.5 or more is deemed obese. Asians are more prone to abdominal obesity, which is also known as central obesity. Asian men with central obesity have a waist circumference of 90cm or more while for women, that measurement is 80cm or more. 

Studies have shown that being obese significantly reduces ocular health. By carrying extra weight, you put excessive pressure on the blood vessels located in your eyes. These delicate vessels are easily prone to damage, causing poor vision.

Below are the eye diseases that have been associated with obesity. 

Cataract 

Several experts have highlighted a direct correlation between obesity and cataract. Firstly, obese patients have higher levels of leptin (the hormone released by fat cells), which enhances oxidative stress that is involved in cataract formation.

Secondly, obesity causes inflammation, which could trigger the development of cataracts. Finally, cataract is thought to be one of the outcomes of obesity-induced diabetes. 

Glaucoma 

Excess body weight can put more pressure on the blood vessels in the eyes. As a result, obese patients tend to have higher intraocular pressure (IOP), a common risk factor for glaucoma. 

An overweight man in a suit rubbing his eye with one hand and holding his glasses in another.
Four eye diseases are related to the effects of obesity – cataract, glaucoma, diabetic retinopathy and age-related maculopathy.

Diabetic Retinopathy 

A 2019 study in Beijing, China and published in the International Journal of Medical Research, has shown that central obesity increases the risk of Diabetic Retinopathy by 12%. Like cataracts, a theory suggests that central obesity promotes oxidative stress that leads to the condition. Another possible explanation is that it is closely linked to diabetes and other symptoms of metabolic syndrome. 

Age-related Maculopathy  

Maculopathy is a disease related to the central part of the retina, called the macula. Experts have found a connection between obesity and age-related maculopathy though to date, there hasn’t been a consistent pattern of association. 

How to Maintain a Healthy Weight and Reduce the Effects of Obesity  

Studies propose that weight loss may help lessen the likelihood of eye diseases. Maintaining a healthy weight can be achieved through these methods: 

A safe and well-balanced diet 

To lose weight, a man should consume no more than 1,900 calories a day and a woman no more than 1,400 calories a day. You can refer to the Mediterranean Diet for a healthy meal plan. 

Exercise 

The National Health Service (NHS) states you can do the following:

  • 150 minutes of moderate activities like walking and dancing, or
  • 75 minutes of intense activities like running or a team sport weekly

If you are susceptible to obesity or have been obese, do these to avoid regaining weight. 

  • Exercise for up to 60 minutes, or
  • Perform activities up to 90 minutes daily

Complement them with strength exercises and balance training (gym workout, tai chi) two days a week. It is best to remain active and not stay sitting for too long. 

Natural remedies 

If dieting and exercising get too hard, you can try some slimming herbs normally prescribed by Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) physicians. These herbs include: 

  • Roselle (mei gui qie, 玫瑰茄). It has been hailed for its cooling and detoxifying effects as well as its ability to enhance metabolism. It also can reduces the absorption of carbohydrates and glucose and may aid in weight loss. 
  • Garcinia cambogia (teng huang guo, 藤黄果). The plant is famous for containing hydroxyl citric acid (HCA), an ingredient typically found in diet supplements to burn fat , appetite control and increase exercise endurance.. 
  • Green coffee bean extract. A study has found that green coffee bean extract can prevent obesity, thanks to its polyphenols antioxidant (chlorogenic acid) that can regulate genes associated with fat cell formation (reducing fat absorption in the gut) and inflammation.  

Green coffee beans on a white background, with a measuring tape surrounding them.
Green coffee bean extract may prevent the harmful effects of obesity on the eyes.

How to Maintain Eye Health 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there are some things you can do to prevent vision loss other than maintaining a healthy weight: 

  1. Take a comprehensive dilated eye exam 
  2. Learn about your family’s eye health history 
  3. Don’t smoke 
  4. Keep your hands and contact lenses clean 
  5. Wear sunglasses that can block out 99 to 100% of ultraviolet rays 
  6. Reduce digital eye strain by taking breaks from your computer or phone screen 
  7. Additionally, you can consume natural supplements that protect the eyes 

As if the effects of obesity aren’t damaging enough, we’ve learned now that it can also compromise our eyesight. Therefore, achieving and maintaining a healthy weight is vital to ensure a fit body looks and optimum eyesight.

This is an adaptation of an article, The Importance of Weight Management Besides Feeling and Looking Good (Eye Health), which first appeared on Eu Yan Sang’s website

References

  1. World Health Organization. 2020. Obesity [online]. Available at: <https://www.who.int/health-topics/obesity> [Accessed 22 March 2022]
  2. National Center for Biotechnology Information. 2014. Using appropriate body mass index cut points for overweight and obesity among Asian Americans [online]. Available at: <https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4217157/> [Accessed 22 March 2022]
  3. Wiley Online Library. 2012. Obesity in Asia – is it different from rest of the world [online]. Available at: <https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1002/dmrr.2353> [Accessed 22 March 2022]  
  4. Journal of the American Academy of Optometry. 2014. Overweight, Obesity, and Age-Related Cataract [online]. Available at: <https://journals.lww.com/optvissci/Fulltext/2014/05000/Overweight,_Obesity,_and_Age_Related_Cataract__A.3.aspx> [Accessed 22 March 2022]
  5. Journal of Glaucoma. 2021. The Association of Intraocular Pressure With Obesity and Cardiometabolic Risk in a Young Farmworker Population [online]. Available at: <https://journals.lww.com/glaucomajournal/Abstract/2021/01000/The_Association_of_Intraocular_Pressure_With.5.aspx> [Accessed 22 March 2022]
  6. Journal of International Medical Research. 2019. Is central obesity associated with diabetic retinopathy in Chinese individuals? An exploratory study [online]. Available at: <https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/pdf/10.1177/0300060519874909> [Accessed 22 March 2022]
  7. Investigative Ophthalmology & Visual Science. 2016. Overweight, Obesity, and Risk of Age-Related Macular Degeneration [online]. Available at: <https://iovs.arvojournals.org/article.aspx?articleid=2505553> [Accessed 22 March 2022]
  8. National Health Service. 2017. Treatment-Obesity [online]. Available at: <https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/obesity/treatment/> [Accessed 22 March 2022]
  9. Hindawi. 2014. Decaffeinated Green Coffee Bean Extract Attenuates Diet-Induced Obesity and Insulin Resistance in Mice [online]. Available at: <https://www.hindawi.com/journals/ecam/2014/718379/> [Accessed 22 March 2022]
  10. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 2021. Tips to Prevent Vision Loss [online]. Available at: <https://www.cdc.gov/visionhealth/risk/tips.htm> [Accessed 22 March 2022]

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