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Understanding Obesity

Obesity is the number one public health concern in the 21st century. More than 34 percent of the adult population is considered obese. In this population, efforts such as dieting and exercise programs have a limited ability to provide effective long-term weight loss and improvement of chronic disease related to obesity.

Morbid obesity brings with it an increased risk for medical conditions such as severe heartburn, hypertension, heart disease, Type II diabetes, and sleep apnea. In addition, there is a markedly decreased life expectancy. For individuals exceeding twice their ideal body weight, the risk of an early death is doubled compared to non-obese individuals.

It is very important to understand that weight loss surgery does not cure obesity. Rather it is a tool to help you transform your life to reduce the effects of excessive weight and alleviate the serious physical, emotional and social consequences of the disease.

Causes of Morbid Obesity

The reasons for obesity are multiple and complex. Despite conventional wisdom, it is not simply a result of overeating. Research has shown that in many cases a significant, underlying cause of morbid obesity is genetic. Studies have demonstrated that once the problem is established, efforts such as dieting and exercise programs have a limited ability to provide effective long-term relief.

Science continues to search for answers. But until the disease is better understood, the control of excess weight is something patients must work at for their entire lives. That is why it is very important to understand that all current medical interventions, including weight loss surgery, should not be considered medical cures. Rather they are attempts to reduce the effects of excessive weight and alleviate the serious physical, emotional and social consequences of the disease.

Contributing Factors

The underlying causes of severe obesity are not known. There are many factors that contribute to the development of obesity including genetic, hereditary, environmental, metabolic and eating disorders. There are also certain medical conditions that may result in obesity like intake of steroids and hypothyroidism.

Genetic Factors

Numerous scientific studies have established that your genes play an important role in your tendency to gain excess weight.

The body weight of adopted children shows no correlation with the body weight of their adoptive parents, who feed them and teach them how to eat. Their weight does have an 80 percent correlation with their genetic parents, whom they have never met.

Identical twins, with the same genes, show a much higher similarity of body weights than do fraternal twins, who have different genes.

Certain groups of people, such as the Pima Indian tribe in Arizona, have a very high incidence of severe obesity. They also have significantly higher rates of diabetes and heart disease than other ethnic groups.

We probably have a number of genes directly related to weight. Just as some genes determine eye color or height, others affect our appetite, our ability to feel full or satisfied, our metabolism, our fat-storing ability, and even our natural activity levels.

Environmental Factors

Environmental and genetic factors are obviously closely intertwined. If you have a genetic predisposition toward obesity, then the modern American lifestyle and environment may make controlling weight more difficult.

Fast food, long days sitting at a desk, and suburban neighborhoods that require cars all magnify hereditary factors such as metabolism and efficient fat storage.

For those suffering from morbid obesity, anything less than a total change in environment usually results in failure to reach and maintain a healthy body weight.

Metabolism

We used to think of weight gain or loss as only a function of calories ingested and then burned. Take in more calories than you burn, gain weight; burn more calories than you ingest, lose weight. But now we know the equation isn’t that simple.

Obesity researchers now talk about a theory called the “set point,” a sort of thermostat in the brain that makes people resistant to either weight gain or loss. If you try to override the set point by drastically cutting your calorie intake, your brain responds by lowering metabolism and slowing activity. You then gain back any weight you lost.

Eating Disorders and Medical Conditions

Weight loss surgery is not a cure for eating disorders. And there are medical conditions, such as hypothyroidism, that can also cause weight gain. That’s why it’s important that you work with your doctor to make sure you do not have a condition that should be treated with medication and counseling.

Health Threat of Morbid Obesity

Morbid obesity brings with it an increased risk for a shorter life expectancy. For individuals whose weight exceeds twice their ideal body weight (that’s about 2-6% of the U.S. population), the risk of an early death is doubled compared to non-obese individuals. The risk of death from diabetes or heart attack is five to seven 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.

Am I Morbidly Obese?

Answering this question may give you the courage you need to take the first step. Below are tools you can use to determine if you are morbidly obese and potentially a candidate for weight loss surgery.

There are several medically accepted criteria for defining morbid obesity. You are likely morbidly obese if you are:

  • more than 100 lbs. over your ideal body weight, or
  • have a Body Mass Index (BMI) of over 40, or
  • have a BMI of over 35 and are experiencing severe negative health effects, such as high blood pressure or diabetes, related to being severely overweight
  • unable to achieve a healthy body weight for a sustained period of time, even through medically supervised dieting

Obesity is often defined using a tool called body mass index (BMI). BMI is calculated by using height and weight measurements.

Calculate my BMI

Are YOU a candidate for weight loss surgery? More Information