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Obesity Health Threats

Obesity results from the excessive accumulation of fat that exceeds the body’s skeletal and physical standards. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), an increase in 20% or more above your “ideal body weight” is the point at which excess weight becomes a health risk.

Obesity becomes “morbid” when it reaches 100 pounds over the ideal body weight. At this point, the death rate (mortality rate) dramatically increases due to the severe obesity leading to serious diseases (also known as co-morbidities).

According to the American Obesity Association, morbid obesity is a serious and life-threatening disease and must be treated as such. It is also a chronic disease, meaning that its symptoms build slowly over an extended period of time. Unfortunately, many people who suffer from obesity are unaware that they have such life-threatening conditions.

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As you read about morbid obesity you may also see the term “clinically severe obesity” used. Both are descriptions of the same condition and can be used interchangeably. Today, an estimated 97 million Americans, more than one-third of the adult population, are overweight or obese.

Of this group, 5 to 10 million adults are considered morbidly obese. This has led to hundreds of thousands of deaths every year due to obesity-related conditions. The research shows that a morbidly obese person is almost 10 times more likely to die within five years if they don’t undergo gastric bypass surgery than if they do. The research also shows that the incidence of major depression amongst morbidly obese persons is 89%.

A measurement used to assess the severity of obesity is the body mass index (BMI). BMI is calculated by dividing body weight (lbs.) by height in inches squared (in²) and multiplying that amount by 704.5. The metric calculation for BMI is kg/(m²). Click here for an interactive BMI calculator.

BMI Classifications:

  • Underweight = <19
  • Ideal BMI = 19-24.9
  • Overweight = 25-29.9
  • Obese = 30
  • Severely obese = 30
  • Morbidly obese = 40
  • Super obese = 50

Morbid obesity is typically defined as being 100 pounds or more over ideal body weight or having a BMI of 40 or greater. Click here for an interactive BMI calculator.

The Health Threat of Morbid Obesity

Morbid obesity brings with it a significant risk for a shorter life expectancy.

For individuals whose BMI is 40 or above, the risk of an early death is 2 to 12 times greater than for non-obese individuals. The risk of death from diabetes or heart attack is 5 to 7 times greater. Even beyond the issue of obesity-related health conditions, weight gain alone can lead to a condition known as “end-stage” obesity where, for the most part, no treatment options are available.

Yet an early death is not the only potential consequence. Social, psychological and economic effects of morbid obesity, however unfair, are real and can be especially devastating. This substantial increase in health risks has made obesity the second-leading cause of preventable death in the United States.

Significant Obesity-Related Health Conditions

Obesity-related health conditions, whether alone or in combination, can significantly reduce your life expectancy. A partial list of some of the more common conditions follows:

  • Type II diabetes
  • High blood pressure/heart disease
  • Cancer
  • Metabolic syndrome (Syndrome X)
  • Osteoarthritis of weight-bearing joints (hips, knees, ankle, feet, low back)
  • Sleep apnea/respiratory problems
  • Gastroesophageal reflux (GERD) and heartburn
  • Depression
  • Infertility
  • Swollen legs/skin ulcers
  • Stress urinary incontinence
  • Menstrual irregularities
  • Lower extremity venous stasis
  • Dyslipidemia/high cholesterol (lipid metabolism abnormalities)
  • Pulmonary embolus

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