Obesity: A Disease

Modern medicine defines morbid obesity as a BMI > 35 or obesity that causes other medical conditions.  Obesity is an excess of total body fat (increase in body fat in proportion to lean body mass), which results from caloric intake that exceeds energy usage.  Morbid obesity is obesity so severe it causes other illnesses.  Our goal is to treat the obesity so other diseases are improved or resolved through weight loss.

Obesity is emerging as a health epidemic around the world. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, obesity is rapidly spreading across all regions and demographic groups. An estimated 97 million adults in the United States are overweight or obese. This figure represents more than 50% of the American adult population. Of this group, 11 million adults suffer from severe obesity.

1995 Worldwide – 200 million obese adults and 18 million children under the age of five.
2000 Worldwide – 300 million obese adults and a dramatic increase in childhood obesity:

  • Age 6-11 years: increase from 4% to 13%
  • Age 12-19 years: increase from 5% to 19%

The American Obesity Association reports that obese individuals have a 50-100% increased risk of death as compared to normal weight individuals, accounting for 300,000 to 587,000 deaths each year. This substantial increase in health risks has made obesity the second leading cause of preventable death in the United States, followed only by smoking at 300,000 deaths each year.  According to the American Society for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery (ASMBS) more than 1000 people die each day in the United States from obesity and obesity related illness.

A measurement used by physicians and researchers to assess health risks 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.  For more information, please click here.

Morbid Obesity

If a person’s weight is so severe that it causes other illnesses, we consider them to have morbid obesity.  This roughly translates to a BMI of 40 or more. A BMI of 35-39.9 is considered severely obese. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has determined that individuals with a BMI equal to or greater than 35 are at such significant risk for obesity related diseases that they qualify for surgery. The NIH thus determined that people with a BMI of 35 or greater have such an increased risk of death from being overweight that this risk outweighs the risk of surgery. The NIH reports that severe obesity and morbid obesity considerably reduce life expectancy and are associated with an increased risk of developing conditions or diseases such as:

  • Diabetes
  • Hypertension
  • Stroke
  • Sleep apnea
  • Heart disease
  • Vascular disease/Stroke
  • Skin infections
  • Cancer
  • Gallstones
  • Urinary incontinence
  • GERD
  • Arthritis
  • Venous ulcers
  • Depression
  • Joint problems
  • Low back pain
  • Infertility
  • DVT and thromboembolism
  • Asthma and other respiratory problem

What Causes Obesity?

Obesity is a multifactorial disease. This means that there is no single cause. Rather there are often multiple causes or factors that come together and lead to obesity. Factors such as genetics, psychological issues (stress, depression, grief, etc.), diet habits, diet behaviors, diet choices, social behaviors and influences, and other medical disorders can play a role.

“The body is in far better position to defend against weight loss than it is to respond to weight gain.”

There also appears to be several safety nets designed into the Central Nervous System circuitry to defend against weight loss – a system with a strong evolutionary bias. Our physiology is exactly the same as it was thousands of years ago. Our system is designed to gain or at least maintain our weight as a survival mechanism. Thousands of years ago, we didn’t eat every day, let alone three times a day. It was important to be very efficient about maintaining our energy stores, and burning that energy efficiently, so as not to starve. In the present day, our physiology is exactly the same although we no longer have to walk or run everywhere, we no longer have to hunt for food, and we have food available to us 24 hours a day/ seven days a week. We are a “Modern Society with Stone Age Genes.” Our diet has also changed substantially. Our diet thousands of years ago consisted of mainly meat and some fruits and vegetables. We certainly were not baking bread, churning butter, or eating twinkies.