Health Threats of Morbid Obesity
The Reasons for Obesity are Multiple and Complex
The causes of morbid obesity are more than simply overeating. Research has shown that one of the causes of morbid obesity may be 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
As the medical community seeks to understand the causes of morbid obesity, one thing is clear: controlling excess weight is something patients must work at for their entire lives. All current medical interventions, including weight loss surgery, should not be considered medical cures. Current interventions are attempts to reduce the effects of excessive weight and alleviate the serious physical, emotional and social consequences of the disease.
Many factors contribute to the development of obesity, including genetics, heredity, environmental factors, metabolic factors and eating disorders.
Numerous scientific studies have established that your genes play an important role in your tendency to gain excess 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 and genetic factors are closely intertwined. If you have a genetic predisposition toward obesity, 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.
We used to think of weight gain or loss as only a function of calories consumed and then burned. Take in more calories than you burn – gain weight; burn more calories than you take in – lose weight. We have since learned the equation isn’t quite 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’ve lost.
Eating Disorders and Medical Conditions
Weight loss surgery is not a cure for eating disorders. There are medical conditions such as hypothyroidism that can also cause weight gain. It is important that you work with your doctor to make sure you do not have a condition that should be treated with medication or 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 (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. End stage obesity is a condition in which typically no treatment options are available. An early death is not the only potential consequence; social, psychological and economic effects of morbid obesity are real and can be especially devastating.
Obesity-related Health Conditions
Obesity-related health conditions are health conditions that, whether alone or in combination, can significantly reduce your life expectancy. Below is a partial list of the more common conditions.
Type 2 Diabetes
Obese individuals develop a resistance to insulin, which regulates blood sugar levels. Over time, the resulting high blood sugar can cause serious damage to the body.
High Blood Pressure and Heart Disease
Excess body weight strains the heart’s ability to function properly. The resulting hypertension (high blood pressure) can cause a stroke, as well as inflict significant heart and kidney damage.
Osteoarthritis of Weight-bearing Joints
The additional weight placed on joints, particularly knees and hips, results in rapid wear and tear, along with pain caused by inflammation. Similarly, bones and muscles of the back are constantly strained, resulting in disk problems, pain and decreased mobility.
Sleep Apnea and Respiratory Problems
Fat deposits in the tongue and neck can cause intermittent obstruction of the air passage. Because the obstruction is increased when sleeping on your back, you may find yourself waking frequently to reposition yourself. The resulting loss of sleep often results in daytime drowsiness and headaches.
Acid belongs in the stomach and seldom causes problems when it stays there. When acid escapes into the esophagus through a weak or overloaded valve at the top of the stomach, the result is called gastroesophageal reflux, and “heartburn” and acid indigestion are common symptoms. Approximately 10-15% of patients with even mild sporadic symptoms of heartburn will develop a condition called Barrett’s esophagus, which is a pre-malignant change in the lining membrane of the esophagus – a cause of esophageal cancer.
Seriously overweight people face constant challenges to their emotions: repeated failure with dieting, disapproval from family and friends, sneers and remarks from strangers. They often experience discrimination at work, cannot fit comfortably in theatre seats, or ride in a bus or plane.
Infertility & Menstrual Irregularities
The relationship between obesity and reproductive health is still being explored, but it is commonly known that there is an association between obesity and infertility. Studies have shown the rates of miscarriage and pregnancy complications are increased in obese women. They also have a higher rate of menstrual and ovulation dysfunction, which can result in abnormal periods and increased pain related to the menstrual cycle.
Urinary Stress Incontinence
A large, heavy abdomen and relaxation of the pelvic muscles, especially associated with the effects of childbirth, may cause the valve on the urinary bladder to be weakened, leading to leakage of urine with coughing, sneezing, or laughing.