What Is Morbid Obesity: Understanding, Treating, and Preventing A Severe Health Condition

Amidst an ever-increasing culture of sedentary behavior and convenient fast-food, the prevalence of obesity continues to rise alarmingly.


  1. The escalating numbers of obesity worldwide are alarming. The World Health Organization reports that in 2021, approximately 650 million adults were obese. More concerning, an estimated 13% of the world’s adult population fell into the category of obesity. 
  2. In the United States alone, the prevalence of obesity was 42.4% in 2017-2018, highlighting the severity of this public health crisis.

This article will delve into morbid obesity, its risk factors, symptoms, treatment, and, crucially, how to prevent obesity from escalating to this severe state.

What Is Morbid Obesity

Morbid obesity is a medical term used to describe a severe form of obesity. It is characterized by excessive and unhealthy accumulation of body fat to the extent that it significantly impairs a person’s overall health and well-being. Morbid obesity is usually determined by a person’s body mass index (BMI), which is a measure of body fat based on height and weight.

The specific criteria for morbid obesity vary depending on the source, but it is generally defined as having a BMI of 40 or higher. In some cases, morbid obesity can also be diagnosed if a person has a BMI of 35 or higher, along with obesity-related health conditions such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease, sleep apnea, or high blood pressure.


  1. Notably, 15.5 million people in the US suffer from morbid obesity, a condition that can severely impact a person’s quality of life and substantially reduce life expectancy.

This extreme degree of obesity significantly hampers a person’s quality of life, drastically reducing life expectancy and increasing the risk of developing various health problems.

Risk Factors of Morbid Obesity

Numerous factors can contribute to morbid obesity, including genetics, environment, and individual behavior. Genetics can predispose some individuals to obesity, but the rising numbers suggest that lifestyle factors, such as unhealthy diet, lack of physical activity, and sleep deprivation, also play significant roles. 

Furthermore, certain medical conditions and medications can contribute to weight gain, escalating the obesity problem.


  1. While genetics can predispose individuals to obesity, lifestyle factors, including an unhealthy diet and lack of physical activity, have a stronger influence, contributing to nearly 50% of obesity cases. 
  2. Sleep deprivation also plays a significant role, with studies showing that people sleeping less than 6 hours a night are 27% more likely to become obese.

Symptoms of Morbid Obesity

Morbid obesity often presents itself through visible weight gain, but the more concerning indicators are the associated health conditions. These include type 2 diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, certain types of cancer, and sleep apnea. Mental health problems, including depression and anxiety, are often linked to severe obesity.

Treatment of Morbid Obesity

When it comes to treating morbid obesity, a multifaceted approach is necessary. Medical intervention, including weight-loss surgery, can be effective for those who have not succeeded with traditional weight-loss strategies. 

Additionally, lifestyle modifications, including diet and physical activity, are crucial. It’s important to highlight that sustainable weight loss requires comprehensive, long-term efforts and frequently the help of healthcare professionals.


  1. Surgical intervention can be an effective method, with bariatric surgery resulting in substantial weight loss in 85% of patients. 
  2. Lifestyle changes, such as diet and physical activity, are critical, as modest weight loss of 5-10% of body weight can significantly improve health conditions associated with obesity.

Understanding how to prevent obesity from reaching this dangerous stage is a crucial aspect of treatment and will be discussed in the following section.

Prevention of Morbid Obesity

Prevention is always better than cure. Healthy lifestyle habits, including a balanced diet, regular physical activity, adequate sleep, and stress management, are the foundation of how to prevent obesity. Incorporating these practices from an early age is particularly important.


  1. Healthy lifestyle habits are central to preventing obesity, with regular physical activity reducing the risk of obesity by 20-30%. 
  2. Early intervention, including regular check-ups and health screenings, are equally important, given that less than 50% of adults receive advice on diet or exercise during routine check-ups.

Moreover, recognizing and treating obesity early can prevent its progression to morbid obesity. Regular check-ups, proactive health screenings, and appropriate interventions can go a long way toward prevention. These interventions may involve nutritional counseling, physical activity guidance, and, if necessary, psychological support.


In conclusion, morbid obesity is a serious health condition with severe physical and psychological implications. Understanding its risk factors and symptoms can help in early identification and treatment. Equally important is understanding how to prevent obesity from reaching this severe state. By promoting and prioritizing healthy lifestyle habits and early intervention, we can curb the growth of this global health issue.


  1. World Health Organization. (2021). Obesity and overweight. https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/obesity-and-overweight
  2. American Society for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery. (2023). What is Morbid Obesity? https://asmbs.org/patients/what-is-morbid-obesity
  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2022). Adult Obesity Causes & Consequences. https://www.cdc.gov/obesity/adult/causes.html
  4. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. (2022). Health Risks of Overweight & Obesity. https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/weight-management/health-risks-overweight
  5. Mayo Clinic. (2023). Obesity – Diagnosis and treatment. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/obesity/diagnosis-treatment/drc-20375749
  6. American Heart Association. (2023). Prevention and Treatment of Overweight and Obesity. https://www.heart.org/en/health-topics/overweight-and-obesity/prevention-and-treatment-of-overweight-and-obesity
  7. Sturm, R., & Hattori, A. (2013). Morbid obesity rates continue to rise rapidly in the United States. International journal of obesity, 37(6), 889–891. https://doi.org/10.1038/ijo.2012.159
  8. Cappuccio, F.P., Taggart, F.M., Kandala, N.B. et al. (2008). Meta-analysis of short sleep duration and obesity in children and adults. Sleep, 31(5), 619–626. https://doi.org/10.1093/sleep/31.5.619
  9. Barnes, P. M., & Schoenborn, C. A. (2003). Trends in adults receiving a recommendation for exercise or other physical activity from a physician or other health professional. NCHS data brief, (86), 1–8.
  10. Mayo Clinic. (2023). Obesity – Diagnosis and treatment. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/obesity/diagnosis-treatment/drc-20375749

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