Defining Morbid Obesity

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Obesity is a serious disease with symptoms that build slowly over an extended period of time. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) define morbid obesity as:

  • Being 100 pounds or more above your ideal body weight
  • Or, having a Body Mass Index (BMI) of 40 or greater
  • Or, having a BMI of 35 or greater and one or more co-morbid conditions

The disease of morbid obesity interferes with basic physical functions such as breathing or walking. Long-term implications of the disease include shorter life expectancy, serious health consequences in the form of weight-related conditions such as type 2 diabetes and heart disease, and a lower quality of life with fewer economic and social opportunities.

Obesity is a serious public health issue. In the U.S.:

  • 24 million U.S. adults are living with morbid obesity and may qualify for bariatric surgery based on NIH guidelines.
  • By 2010, it is projected that there may be 31 million U.S. adults living with morbid obesity and may qualify for bariatric surgery based on NIH guidelines.

Co-Morbid Conditions

The presence of obesity increases the risk of a number of medical conditions, including cancer. A co-morbid condition is a health condition related to a primary disease such as obesity.

There are many health conditions related to morbid obesity, but some of the most common are:

  • Type 2 diabetes, which can lead to heart disease, kidney failure, blindness, amputation of the feet or legs, and nerve damage
  • Heart disease, such as hardening of the arteries, heart attack, and angina
  • High blood pressure, which can lead to heart disease, stroke, kidney failure, and vision loss
  • High cholesterol, which can lead to heart disease, stroke, and kidney failure
  • Obstructive sleep apnea has been associated with high blood pressure
  • Acid reflux/GERD, which can lead to esophagitis, Barrett’s esophagus, and esophageal cancer (adenocarcinoma)
  • Cancer
  • Depression
  • Osteoarthritis and joint pain, which can lead to loss of mobility
  • Stress urinary incontinence
  • Female reproductive health disorder, which can lead to infertility and sexual dysfunction

An emerging body of literature demonstrating relationships between maternal obesity and structural birth defects, including:

  • Increased risk of spina bifida and heart defects
  • Decreased risk of gastroschisis

These conditions occur more frequently in people with morbid obesity. Mortality rates from many of these conditions are also higher among people with morbid obesity.