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Few Americans know all the risks of obesity

WASHINGTON — Carrying too many pounds may lead to or worsen some types of cancer, arthritis, sleep apnea, even infertility. But a new poll suggests many Americans do not realize the links.

About one-quarter of people think it’s possible for someone to be very overweight and still healthy, according to the poll by the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.

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Ask about the most serious consequences, and more than 7 in 10 Americans can correctly tick off heart disease and diabetes. Heart disease is the nation’s leading killer, and diabetes and obesity are twin epidemics, as rates of both have climbed in recent years.

The other consequences aren’t so well known.

‘‘People are often shocked to hear how far-reaching the effects of obesity are,’’ said Jennifer Dimitriou, a bariatric dietitian at New York’s Montefiore Medical Center.

Only 7 percent of people surveyed mentioned cancer, although doctors long have known that fat increases the risk of developing cancers of the colon, breast, prostate, uterus, and certain other sites. Plus, being overweight can make it harder to spot tumors early and to treat them.

Then there is the toll on your joints, especially the knees. About 15 percent of people knew obesity can contribute to arthritis, a vicious cycle as the joint pain then makes it harder to exercise and shed pounds.

High blood pressure, high cholesterol, and strokes were fairly low on the list. Infertility did not get a mention.

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