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About Morbid Obesity

This section is intended for education and informational purposes only. Drexel University College of Medicine cannot predict whether surgery will be approved. Any member of the bariatric surgery team reserves the right to postpone or cancel surgery for medical or psychological reasons.

Obesity is now regarded as a chronic medical disease with serious health implications caused by a complex set of factors. It has been estimated that 64% of the adults in the USA are either overweight or obese, 80% of those are women. Statistical trends in the USA seem to indicate that those numbers are rising, and so do the health consequences related to obesity (i.e., diabetes, heart problems, cardiovascular problems, respiratory problems, etc.). It is predicted that obesity may soon become the number one cause of preventable death in the USA, having already outranked tobacco use. Current US statistics indicate that approximately 400,000 people die each year as a consequence of obesity and obesity-related problems.

What is Morbid Obesity?

According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) consensus report, morbid obesity is a serious disease and must be treated as such. It is a chronic disease, meaning that its symptoms build slowly  over an extended period of time. We talk about morbid obesity when your body mass Index (BMI) is 40 or higher. Sometimes this is defined as 100 pounds or more over your ideal body weight. The important thing to remember is that once you reach that point you will have an increased risk of having significant medical problems or serious diseases.

To calculate your BMI go to

Causes of Obesity and Morbid Obesity

  1. Heredity: 
    If others in your family are obese, then you have a higher risk for obesity. Genetic research does show that a number of processes don't work as well in obese people as they do in others. These include how fat is burned, metabolism and feelings of hunger and fullness.
  2. Metabolic Disorders:  
    Metabolism refers to how your body gets energy from food. Lots of things affect metabolism. For instance, trouble with your thyroid gland can change your metabolism and lead to obesity or morbid obesity.
  3. Energy Balance: 
    To work right, your body needs the energy that comes from food. When you eat the same amount of food your body needs, your weight stays the same. If you get more energy from food than you  need, some is left over. Your body stores that extra energy as fatty tissue. If your body never uses the extra fat, you will gain weight. How much food you need depends on how fast your body uses energy. Some people with higher metabolism use energy faster than others. Some need more energy because they are more active.
  4. Eating and Social Habits: 
    Your eating habits can affect your weight. Things like not eating a balanced diet or eating fast-food and fatty snacks between meals can all cause obesity. Another habit that can cause obesity is eating portions that are too large or too rich. Drinking too many high-calorie soft drinks can also cause it. Not getting enough exercise can make the effect of these habits worse.
  5. Psychological Factors: 
    Most people's eating habits are affected by their surroundings. For some people, small colorful portions will cause them to eat more. Some people eat larger portions of rich foods when they are at social events. Some people eat for comfort. They may eat at times of grief or increased stress. The "blow-out" is a common response after a diet fails, causing the dieter to think "It never works." This way of thinking can lead to a vicious cycle of eating and dieting that will only make the person gain more weight.

Physiological Impact of Obesity

Health Risks Associated With Severe Obesity

The higher your BMI, the greater your risk for medical problems related to your weight.

Obese people have more risk for:

  • Diabetes
  • Joint problems
  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol
  • Cancer
  • Gallbladder problems
  • Breathing difficulties
  • Coronary artery disease

If you already have some of these diseases, they can become worse as you gain weight. As a result,  your life expectancy is shorter. You also may have fewer options available to you to improve your health. Exercise is important to good health. Severe obesity makes you less mobile and it is harder to exercise or take part in sports. Severe obesity can also affect a woman's ability to become pregnant. On the other hand, if you do become pregnant, you have more risk of problems during pregnancy and childbirth.

Psychological and Social Impact of Severe Obesity

People with a weight problem often have a negative self-image. Their environment can make this worse. For example, they may find it hard to buy clothes that fit and look good on them. They are also likely to be left out of social functions that require exercise. People with severe obesity often find themselves socially isolated. They tend to tire or become winded easily. Even day to day tasks such as bathing can become difficult for them. Bus or train seats, telephone booths and cars may be too small. Obese children may be teased at school and have few friends.

The information on these pages is provided for general information only and should not be used for diagnosis or treatment, or as a substitute for consultation with a physician or health care professional. If you have specific questions or concerns about your health, you should consult your health care professional.

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