Why Do Fat People Waddle: The Biomechanics of Obesity

Most people believe being overweight means looking puffier than other people. But the truth is having more weight than usual can affect you in different ways. Excess weight presents a variety of health concerns like heart diseases and kidney problems.

But it can also affect a task so important that you do it several thousand times a day. Yes, I’m talking about the way you walk. Obesity can take a real toll on your everyday life. Nowhere is this more apparent than how it affects your walk.

Morbidly obese people walk with a “side to side” kind of gait, like that on a duck. So why do fat people waddle? And what is the correlation between obesity and difficulty walking? Find everything you need to know in this article about waddling gait obesity.

why do fat people waddle
Image by Tania Dimas from Pixabay

Why Do Fat People Waddle?

The simple answer is, it’s to adapt to the extra weight. Our bodies are made of complex hinges and joints of flesh and bone. The load-carrying capacity of each of these joints is limited. So carrying a load beyond the structural capacity of these joints wears them down.

You can see this in the knee joints of workers who carry a lot of weight every day and also in obese struggling to walk. The cartilage and fluid in their joints are more depleted than a typical person.

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So, to adapt to this excess load and prevent wear, our bodies make subtle changes to the way we walk. The changes can’t usually be noticed but become more pronounced as the weight increases. And this is how obesity and difficulty walking are related.

So you’ve got the answer to why fat people waddle. But the actual kinesiology behind this change in walking patterns is quite complex. To learn about why overweight people walk differently, you first have to understand how people walk normally in the first place.

So let’s get into it.

Walking and the Gait Cycle

Human beings walk on two legs. This bipedal locomotion is one of the key traits that make us human. We learn to walk from when we are around one year old. So it’s a learned behavior that we never really need to revisit. But the physics behind walking is truly fascinating.

There are a lot of forces at play and intricate balancing mechanisms which allow us to walk correctly. I will get back to you with details on how does obesity affects walking. However, let’s start with the basics.

The combination of limb movements that allow human beings to walk is called gait. Gait is a cycle of two phases that work one after the other to help you move forward. These two phases are the stance phase and the swing phase. Let’s take a look at what happens during these phases.

Stance Phase

The stance phase is precisely what it sounds like. It’s the part of walking when you are upright with your load on one of your legs.

This is called the Heel strike. It begins when you extend your foot and touch the ground with your heel. Then, the rest of your foot lands firmly on the ground and supports your body as the other foot starts to leave the ground. This is the Mid-stance period.

Finally, when the other foot has swung forward and placed itself on the ground, your toes push off the surface, and the foot begins its swing forward. This is the Propulsive period.

Swing Phase

The swing phase begins after your toes have pushed off the ground. As the name suggests, this phase constitutes the swinging of the leg.

After toe-off, the hips flex and draw the leg to initiate the swing. During this time, the center of gravity of the body is transferred laterally to the load-bearing foot. The foot is then swung forward by the flexion of the hip joint. The foot swings forward adjacent to the load-bearing foot and surpasses it. This is the Mid-swing period.

At the end of the Mid-swing period, the tibia of the swinging leg becomes perpendicular to the ground. The leg decelerates, and the knee and hip begin extension. As the heel of the swinging foot begins to touch the ground, the opposite foot starts its toe-off. This is the Terminal swing period.

As the foot completes its heel strike, the body’s load is transferred to it, and the opposite foot begins its swing phase. This continuous cycle of alternate stance and swing of the feet allows us to walk on two feet.

When we walk, it’s not only our feet that are moving. Our arms, torso, head all move to maintain balance while walking. This requires the coordination of a complex system of nerves, muscles, organs, and reflexes.

Now that the basics of normal walking are out of the way, we can look at abnormal gaits and their causes.

Abnormal Gaits

Any abnormality during walking that affects a person’s ability to walk correctly is called an abnormal gait. A person’s walking can be affected by various factors like disease, injury, weight, genetic abnormalities, etc.

Abnormal gaits can include dragging feet while walking, crossing of legs from one side to the other, feet hitting each other while walking, waddling from side to side, etc.

Waddling Gait

A waddling gait is a type of abnormal gait. It is most often observed in overweight gait. It is characterized by the body moving side to side while walking. The steps taken are also shorter than usual. The body also swings laterally in this type of gait.

There are a few reasons behind this type of abnormal gait. One of the reasons is that the body’s excess weight puts a tremendous amount of pressure on the knee joints. So the person avoids this by swinging the legs forward laterally, without bending the knee.

why do fat people waddle
Photo by Noelle Otto from Pexels

Another reason is that if there is an excess amount of fat between the legs, it might impede the natural movement of the legs. The rubbing of two legs while normal walking may also cause irritation and discomfort. Taking steps wider and moving less laterally is a simple solution to this problem.

So why do fat people waddle? Now it’s clear people with more weight walk differently from the rest of us. It’s simply to accommodate for the greater forces their lower limbs experience due to a heavier load.

There are many more subtle but significant differences between how ordinary and overweight people walk except for waddling.

How Obesity Changes Gait

So how does obesity affect walking? There has been a great deal of research into how weight affects human locomotion. Kinesiological studies have shown that the walking patterns of overweight individuals are slightly different than usual. But these changes have a significant impact in reducing load and increasing comfort.

Firstly, a person who’s morbidly obese has a longer heel strike than normal people. This allows the initial impact of the heel to the ground to be reduced, lowering the stress on the ankle and knee. So, can being overweight cause foot pain? Yes, it can.

Again, taking slightly longer on the heel strike allows the body’s weight to be distributed evenly over a more extended period. This helps lower the stress on the load-bearing leg.

Another key difference is the flexion and extension of the hip during the different phases of walking. The flexion of the hip of obese people is more reduced compared to normal. Again, hip extension is also observed during toe-off. This is due to the increased weight of the lower limbs.

As the lower limbs are heavier due to excess fat, the range of movement of the hips is more limited. This can be seen as a strategy to reduce the workload of the hips and prevent fatigue. However, it may also be the result of the weakness of the gluteus muscles in the hips.

The last change is wider steps and reduced overweight gait speed. This has to do with the increased center of gravity. The center of gravity of a person increases with weight. The larger the center of gravity, the more difficult it is to balance.

So to avoid losing balance and falling over, overweight people take smaller steps, wider apart. This reduces the swinging time and lowers the risk of falling. A wider stance also distributes the weight over a wider area. This also improves balance. Of course, the side effect of this is reduced speed and the characteristic ‘waddling’ movement.

By now, you’ve got the complete answer to “Why do fat people waddle?”. Now let’s find out what you can do to prevent it. By the way, walking shoes for obese people can go a long way.

Prevention of  Gait Abnormalities

An abnormal gait of any kind is a severe obstacle to everyday life. Walking is an essential part of our lives. So it’s tough for those with waddle walking abnormalities to live a fulfilling life.

So it is essential to prevent abnormal gait of any form before it becomes a severe or permanent problem.

For people with genetic defects or limb deformities, prevention isn’t an option. But they can be rehabilitated as much as possible by prosthetics or external aid.

Photo by Ryutaro Tsukata from Pexels

But you should address preventable forms of abnormal gait from an early age. For example, in underdeveloped countries, diseases like Polio and Ricketts cause disabilities like retarded growth and paralysis. Proper vaccination and nutrition can help prevent these diseases and ensure proper growth and function.

In case of abnormal gait caused by obesity, maintaining an active lifestyle and preventing excess weight gain is the key preventive measure. Trying a few best walking shoes for overweight men and women can also make things better.

Children should be encouraged to take part in sports and physical activities to cultivate an active mindset. Regular exercises for obese people with bad knees and controlled diet intake can prevent weight gain and obesity for adults.

How to Stay in Shape

If your waddling has become a severe problem in your day-to-day life, chances are your weight is out of control. Your doctor has probably advised you to lose weight, and that can be not easy. However, for an obese struggling to walk, adapting to these changes is essential.

The key to weight loss is diet control and exercise.  But it’s easier said than done. Many people try to lose weight following fad diets. But these rarely work and often are quite misleading.

It’s common to find people who are obese struggling to walk. Some people are just too fat to walk. Exercising for them is almost impossible.

If you are undertaking such a  weight loss journey, it’s essential to talk to your doctor to know what is safe for you. You should also seek the help of a qualified trainer for exercise. If possible, you should also consult a dietician to find the optimal diet for you to lose weight at a safe rate.

Here are some tips to help you lose weight even faster:

Avoid processed foods

Processed foods like refined carbohydrates contain a considerable amount of calories per serving. Avoid them for more fiber-rich foods with fewer calories. It’ll make you feel full without adding to your calorie intake.

Eat more proteins

Proteins are essential for maintaining muscle mass and compensating for decay. Moreover, proteins are high-energy foods and do not contribute to weight gain as much as carbs and fats.

Avoid sugar

Sugar is processed readily by the body and stored as glucose or converted into fats. So avoid sugar to prevent unwanted weight gain if you want to stay away from obesity and balance issues.

Drink plenty of water

Water is essential for the metabolic activities of the body. Drinking water before a meal also makes you feel fuller and want to eat less.

Use smaller plates

Using smaller plates forces you to eat smaller portions. It also acts as a subconscious suggestion to make you feel full.

Take the stairs

Get as much exercise as you can and try to burn calories throughout the day. So skip the elevator and climb a few flights of stairs. It is one of the best exercises for obese people to keep the waddle walking under control.

Cardio and weights

Cardio is the best form of exercise to lose weight. So try running or power walking, whichever suits you. Lifting weight is also beneficial for weight loss.

FAQ About Why do Super Fat People Waddle

Why do fat people waddle?

People who are overweight face difficulty in walking normally due to various reasons. Walking in a waddling motion helps to relieve pressure from the legs and also helps improve balance.

How to correct waddling?

To correct waddling due to obesity, the solution is to lose weight. After losing a sufficient amount of weight, an obese person can easily return to walking normally. In some severe cases, you might require physiotherapy.

Is waddling because of weight permanent?

No, waddling gait due to excess weight is reversible. By losing weight and proper exercise, waddling gait can easily be corrected. If someone is too fat to walk, a few lifestyle changes can improve his/her health condition.

Photo by Pixabay from Pexels

Conclusion

So, why do fat people waddle? You probably have found your answer by now. It’s because of more comfort, stability, and ease of movement. But that doesn’t mean that waddling should be encouraged.

If you are waddling because you are overweight, you should consider losing weight. Excess weight leads to serious health complications and reduced longevity. So follow the guidelines given above and get back in shape.

As a doctor in the making, I feel fascinated by the advancements and expansion of medical science. This fuels my passion for trying to follow a health-conscious lifestyle. I love writing and sharing thoughts and ideas with the people I care about. If my work can reach out and help people to enjoy a healthy, happy life it will be an honor for me. Muhtasim Munir MBBS (3rd year) Armed Forces Medical College

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