Understanding Morbid Obesity

Dr. Christopher McGowan
March 8, 2021

Since the 1980s, obesity has become an increasingly prevalent health concern in both the United States and around the world. In fact, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) has noted that mean body mass index (BMI), a common metric used to determine likelihood of obesity, has risen steadily across the globe. An even more concerning development is the rise in morbid obesity, a classification that indicates an even higher risk of comorbidities and obesity-related health conditions. For those who struggle with this condition, the path toward a healthier self is more promising than ever because of advances in medical weight loss procedures like those offered by True You.  

What is Morbid Obesity? 

As noted above, morbid obesity is generally defined by doctors in terms of body mass index. Given the differences in height and body type from person to person, BMI is one of the best metrics for indicating whether or not someone may be overweight, obese, or morbidly obese. Though it is imperfect (for instance, a tall, muscular person would have a high BMI but wouldn’t actually be obese), it functions as helpful guidance for identifying the magnitude of a person’s obesity and their risk of developing certain health problems like type 2 diabetes and others. 

In cases of obesity, a high BMI simply means having a high amount of excess body fat. The amount of fat that would be considered “excess” is different from person to person, but it generally refers to accumulating enough excessive fat tissue that it begins to have a deleterious effect on a person’s health. Morbid obesity, then, is an even greater level of fat tissue in the body; though the distinction between obesity and morbid obesity is often measured through BMI, there isn’t always a clear dividing line between when a given person will be obese enough to start having especially dangerous health complications.   

BMI is determined by a calculation that uses a person’s height and weight. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) defines being overweight as having a “weight that is higher than what is considered as a healthy weight for a given height.” The CDC further establishes the following ranges and classifications: 

  • underweight: BMI of less than 18.5
  • normal weight: BMI between 18.5 and 25
  • overweight: BMI between 25 and 30 
  • obese: BMI over 30

Additionally, the CDC provides further classification for obese people with a BMI over 30: 

  • class 1: BMI between 30 and 35
  • class 2: BMI between 35 and 40  
  • class 3: BMI over 40 

The term “morbid obesity” and “severe obesity” are often used interchangeably, but they both generally refer to individuals in class 3 who have a BMI higher than 40. 

How Does a Person Become Morbidly Obese?

The potential causes of obesity are numerous and diverse, and becoming obese can’t be easily reduced to any simple factors. There are emotional, social, environmental, socioeconomic, and lifestyle factors that can play a role, but there are also genetic factors and medical problems that may be at work. There are also theories about government policy and the rise of “quick prep” foods in the American diet; some have suggested that the rise in obesity in the past several decades is less about personal choice and more about economic forces and the cultural impact of extensive, manipulative advertising. 

The truth is that the cause is different for different people in different circumstances. The good news is that the majority of potential causes are avoidable and “fixable.” Dietary considerations, of course, play the most crucial role in whether or not a person will become overweight or obese. The typical American/Western diet includes excessive amounts of sugar, saturated fat, and cholesterol, but it also lacks fiber and other essential nutrients that promote good health and help our bodies function better. 

What Are the Health Risks of Morbid Obesity?  

Being overweight in any way already brings a slightly higher risk for a wide variety of poor health outcomes, though a BMI between 25-30 is often more of a cosmetic concern than a significant health concern. When people get into the 30 and above range, the risk for disease increases significantly. Below is a list of conditions and complications that may arise as a result of morbid or severe obesity: 

  • type 2 diabetes 
  • heart disease or cardiovascular disease 
  • increased risk of cancer (various types)
  • fatty liver disease 
  • hypertension (high blood pressure) 
  • stroke
  • kidney disease 
  • sleep apnea 
  • asthma 
  • dementia 
  • gout
  • blood clots
  • erectile dysfunction or infertility  
  • complications in pregnancy 
  • gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
  • COVID-19 (risk of severe illness if the virus is contracted) 
  • osteoarthritis 
  • gallbladder problems like gallstones 
  • heartburn
  • incontinence 

Management and Treatment Options for Morbid Obesity 

Morbid obesity is a serious condition that can potentially bring about life-threatening medical conditions, but there is hope! Many people who struggle with obesity also struggle with the traditional methods of losing weight, namely dieting and exercising. Yet with managing busy lives, jobs, families, and all of the stresses that life can bring, finding time and motivation to utilize those methods makes it increasingly difficult to find success. And often, even if someone does manage to lose some weight, those same rigors of life make it a huge challenge to keep the weight off; usually the pounds come back after a year or two. 

It is precisely because of these kinds of challenges that True You is passionate about providing life-changing alternatives. Rather than subjecting yourself to a bizarre fad diet or an unsustainable exercise routine, we offer a series of non-surgical weight loss procedures that can finally give you the freedom you’ve been waiting for. Unlike standard bariatric surgery, True You’s weight loss solutions are specifically meant for people who have a BMI of 30 or higher but who haven’t been able to find success with other methods. The following are a few examples of available options: 

  • ESG: Short for endoscopic sleeve gastroplasty, ESG involves reshaping the stomach into a smaller-volume, sleeve shape that limits the amount of food that can be ingested. And because you can’t eat as much, your body will be in a caloric deficit and begin to burn fat. And one of the best things about ESG is that it is all done endoscopically without the need for incisions, which means a much shorter recovery time than similar surgical procedures. 
  • ORBERA®: The ORBERA® Managed Weight Loss System works in the same basic way as ESG: reducing stomach volume in order to promote a caloric deficit. With ORBERA®, though, a deflated gastric balloon is endoscopically inserted into the stomach and then filled with a safe saline solution. The balloon is designed to stay in your stomach for six months, essentially training you and your body to eat less food even after the balloon is removed. 

True You: Freedom is Waiting! 

At True You, we have great empathy for anyone struggling with obesity, and we understand how frustrating traditional weight loss methods can be. This is why we are dedicated to providing our state-of-the-art solutions that have been incredibly successful for many, many patients. If you have been searching for a different approach to weight loss, we would love to meet you! Contact us to request a consultation; our highly professional and friendly staff are eager to help you find the freedom you’ve been waiting for.

Dr. Christopher McGowan
Dr. Christopher McGowan

Dr. Christopher McGowan, MD, a leader in endobariatrics, specializes in non-surgical obesity treatments and is triple-board-certified in Internal Medicine, Gastroenterology, and Obesity Medicine. Renowned for pioneering endoscopic sleeve gastroplasty (ESG) with over 2,000 procedures, his global influence and research contributions define him as a top expert.

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