What is Severe Obesity?

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  • Written By: Marjorie McAtee
  • Edited By: W. Everett
  • Last Modified Date: 19 July 2019
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Severe obesity, also known as morbid obesity, occurs when a person is severely overweight. Physicians generally measure obesity using a scale known as the body mass index (BMI), which helps doctors determine what percentage of a person's weight is body fat. Persons with a BMI of 30 or higher are generally considered obese, while persons with a BMI of 40 or higher may be considered to be suffering from severe obesity. Some experts define severe obesity as being 100 pounds (45.4 kg) or more overweight. Morbid obesity is considered a serious public health problem, because it raises a person's risk of developing multiple health conditions, including cardiovascular disease, diabetes, stroke, and depression.

Unhealthy diets and sedentary lifestyles are believed to be major contributors to obesity, especially in the developed world. Women who have had children may be more likely to experience obesity, due to the weight gain that can occur during pregnancy. Persons who are overweight as children or adolescents may be more likely to experience adult obesity.

Certain health problems, including chronic insomnia, and the use of certain prescription drugs, can contribute to weight gain and obesity. Researchers believe that environmental and genetic factors can play a large role in obesity. People who immigrate from less-developed to more-developed nations appear, for instance, more likely to develop obesity as they adopt the lifestyle and eating habits of the more prosperous culture.


Obesity and morbid obesity can put a patient's health at serious risk. Health complications related to severe obesity can include hypertension, cardiovascular disease, fatty liver disease, and type 2 diabetes. Persons suffering from severe obesity often have an elevated risk of arthritis, reproductive problems, stroke, and various cancers. Experts believe that even a small reduction in body weight can help drastically lower the risk of health complications related to obesity.

When obesity becomes severe, diet and lifestyle changes alone may no longer be sufficient to treat the condition. While diet and lifestyle changes are almost always considered essential to treating severe obesity, medication or surgery may also be advised. Some prescription weight-loss drugs approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration may assist weight loss by hampering the body's ability to absorb fats from food. Bariatric surgeries, including gastric bypass or the lap-band procedure, can assist weight loss by reducing the size of a patient's stomach or shortening the digestive tract so that it absorbs fewer nutrients. Weight loss surgeries and medications can have serious side effects, and are usually only considered for patients suffering severe obesity accompanied by dangerous medical complications.



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