Obesity: What are the risks, and how can physical therapy help?

The word has been out for a while: Obesity is on the rise in America. A study published last year by JAMA (the Journal of the American Medical Association) showed that no matter which way you look at the data (all adults, men vs. women, specific age groups), more people are obese in all of these categories than there were 10 years ago.

Woman standing on scale that says "Help!"

What can contribute to obesity?

A variety of factors can lead to obesity, explains AED Superstore, a Preferred Vendor for PTPN (Physiquality’s parent company). Yes, it can be the result of eating more than you should and moving less than you should. But sometimes it’s a good idea to consider why you might be doing that.

Studies have shown there are correlations between eating “comfort” foods and obesity. One recent study showed that people who have higher levels of stress often produce higher levels of the hormone cortisol. Once under stress, these people might eat more “comfort” foods (which are often loaded with sugars and cause us to feel better — temporarily).

But the combination of the higher levels of cortisol and “energy-dense” (a.k.a., sugary) foods is more likely to lead to obesity. And, the study notes, it’s a vicious circle — the hormone levels and stress feed off each other, leading to eating more (and sleeping less), and the person becomes more obese.

Dark-haired woman sits at a table with lots of food. On her left, an angel on her shoulder encourages her to eat all of the healthy items below, like fruit and vegetables. On her right, a devil argues for sweets and fast food.

AED Superstore also asks us to think about why we make the food decisions we do. Many processed foods out there (like potato chips) are made to be addictive, causing us to eat more than we should. As you walk down the aisles at the grocery store, remember that all calories are not created equal. Try to buy more fresh vegetables and fruits and fewer processed foods. Read the labels on your foods.

And pay attention to how your body reacts to different foods — if you often feel bad or sluggish after eating a particular food, perhaps it’s better to cut it out of your diet.

What can help reduce obesity?

Number one: Talk to your healthcare providers. Ask for their advice on how to lose weight and improve your health. It can be daunting, but remember that even little changes can make big improvements in your health.

This includes your physical therapist. As musculoskeletal experts, PTs can create a plan to help you move more in a safe way. They can create pain-free and fun ways to increase your activity, which will burn calories and fat while preserving muscles and protecting your joints. The byproduct? Stronger muscles and bones, a healthier heart, improved movement — and less pain.

Close up photograph of a person in red pants and athletic shoes walking on a treadmill.

Speaking of pain, Progressive Physical Therapy and Rehabilitation (a Physiquality network member in California) reminds you that insurance will often pay for physical therapy if you have pain related to your obesity. One of the vicious circles of obesity can be that increased weight will put more pressure on your joints, which can make it painful to walk or be active.

Michael McKinley, a physical therapist and owner of Progressive Physical Therapy and Rehabilitation, encourages people who have this problem to work with a PT. He says, “Under the guidance of a physical therapist, we have the skills to reduce the pain while increasing cardiovascular output to minimize weight and start to reverse the cycle.” By working with a physical therapist, you can start to lose weight and create habits for better health.

Are you looking for a physical therapist to help with weight loss? Use our locator below to find a Physiquality physical therapist near you.

Thank you to our contributors:

Progressive Physical Therapy and Rehabilitation is a Physiquality member clinic with two locations in Southern California. Established in 2004, Progressive PT takes pride in personalized programs based on the latest scientific evidence, state-of-the-art treatments, equipment, and modalities. Their one-on-one treatments with licensed therapists in a comfortable atmosphere encourage positive results.

AED Superstore, a Preferred Vendor for PTPN (Physiquality’s parent company), is the world’s largest distributor of automated external defibrillators and related accessories.. The company also offers AED, CPR and first aid training courses through its network of American Heart Association‐accredited instructors.

Weighing the facts. AED Superstore, February 18, 2019.

van der Valk, Eline S., Mseut Savas and Elisabeth F.C. van Rossum. Stress and obesity: Are there more susceptible individuals? Current Obesity Reports, April 16, 2018.


Hales, Craig M., Charyl D. Fryar, Margaret D. Carroll, David S. Freedman, and Cynthia L. Ogden. Trends in obesity and severe obesity prevalence in US youth and adults by sex and age, 2007-2008 to 2015-2016. JAMA, April 24, 2018.

National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Physical therapy can aid in the struggle with obesity. Progressive Physical Therapy and Rehabilitation.

Avruskin, Andrea. Physical therapist’s guide to obesity. American Physical Therapy Association, October 6, 2014.

Moss, Michael. The extraordinary science of addictive junk food. New York Times, February 20, 2013.

Brown, Eryn. It’s not just how many calories, but what kind, study finds. Los Angeles Times, June 27, 2012.

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