What Is Obesity?

Obesity results from the excessive accumulation of fat that exceeds the body’s skeletal and physical standards. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), an increase of 20 percent or more above your ideal body weight is the point at which excess weight becomes a health risk.

The prevalence of obesity has reached alarming levels across the globe. In fact, it has more than tripled since 1975, with over 1.9 billion adults being overweight and over 650 million classified as obese.

Today 97 million Americans, more than one-third of the adult population, are overweight or obese. An estimated 5 to 10 million of those are considered morbidly obese.

These statistics not only highlight the magnitude of the problem but also emphasize the urgent need for greater understanding, awareness, and action.

What Is Morbid Obesity?

Obesity becomes “morbid” when it reaches the point of significantly increasing the risk of one or more obesity-related health conditions or serious diseases (also known as co-morbidities) that result either in significant physical disability or even death. As you read about morbid obesity you may also see the term “clinically severe obesity” used. Both are descriptions of the same condition and can be used interchangeably. Morbid obesity is typically defined as being 100 lbs. or more over ideal body weight or having a Body Mass Index of 40 or higher. According to the National Institutes of Health Consensus Report, morbid obesity is a serious disease and must be treated as such. It is a chronic disease, meaning that its symptoms build slowly over an extended period of time.

Definitions of Obesity

Being ‘overweight’ and being ‘obese’ are both labels for ranges of weight that are greater than what is generally considered healthy for a given height. These terms also identify ranges of weight that have been shown to increase the likelihood of certain diseases and other health problems.

For adults, obesity ranges are determined by using one’s weight and height to calculate a number called the “body mass index” (BMI). BMI is used because, for most people, it correlates with their amount of body fat.

  1. An adult who has a BMI between 25 and 29.9 is considered overweight.
  2. An adult who has a BMI of 30 or higher is considered obese.
  3. An adult with a BMI of 35 or higher is severely obese.
  4. An adult with a BMI of 40 or more is considered morbidly obese.

It is important to remember that although BMI correlates with the amount of body fat, BMI does not directly measure body fat. As a result, some people, such as athletes, may have a BMI that identifies them as overweight even though they do not have excess body fat.

There are specific methods for estimating body fat and body fat distribution, including measurements of skinfold thickness and waist circumference, calculation of waist-to-hip circumference ratios, and techniques such as ultrasound, computed tomography, and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). There are advanced scales that can also precisely measure one’s percent body fat and body fat distribution, one of which we regularly use in our office.

Causes of obesity

Obesity can be attributed to a combination of genetic factors, lifestyle choices, and environmental factors.

Genetic factors

Genetic factors play a crucial role in determining an individual’s susceptibility to obesity. Research has shown that certain genes can increase the likelihood of weight gain and difficulty in losing weight. However, it is important to note that genetics alone do not determine obesity. Other factors, such as lifestyle and environment, also play a significant role.

Lifestyle choices

Lifestyle choices, including diet and physical activity, heavily influence the development of obesity. Consuming a diet high in calorie-dense foods, saturated fats, and sugars can lead to excessive weight gain. Additionally, a sedentary lifestyle characterized by minimal physical activity and prolonged periods of sitting or inactivity can contribute to weight gain.

Environmental factors

Environmental factors also contribute to the prevalence of obesity. The availability and accessibility of unhealthy food options, such as fast food and sugary beverages, can promote poor dietary choices. Moreover, factors like socioeconomic status, cultural norms, and built environments can influence individuals’ ability to adopt healthy habits.

Effects of Obesity on Physical Health

Obesity has a profound impact on physical health, with a range of detrimental effects that should not be overlooked. One of the most concerning consequences of obesity is the increased risk of developing chronic diseases. Studies have shown that individuals who are obese are more likely to develop conditions such as type 2 diabetes, hypertension, and certain types of cancer. These chronic diseases can significantly deteriorate one’s overall well-being and quality of life.

Cardiovascular problems.

Excessive weight places a significant strain on the heart, leading to an increased risk of heart disease, heart attacks, and strokes. The accumulation of excess body fat can result in elevated blood pressure, elevated cholesterol levels, and a higher likelihood of developing arterial blockages. These factors collectively contribute to the heightened risk of cardiovascular complications in individuals who are obese.

Joint Issues.

In addition to chronic diseases and cardiovascular problems, obesity also takes a toll on the joints. Excess weight places immense pressure on the joints, particularly in the knees and hips. Over time, this can lead to joint degeneration, osteoarthritis, and chronic pain. The added stress on the joints can also limit mobility, making it more challenging for individuals to engage in physical activities and maintain a healthy lifestyle.

Effects of Obesity on Mental Health

Obesity not only affects a person’s physical health but also has a significant impact on their mental well-being. The effects of obesity on mental health cannot be overlooked, as they can have a profound and lasting impact on an individual’s overall quality of life.

Body image issues

Living in a society that places great emphasis on thinness and the ideal body shape, individuals with obesity often face societal stigma and discrimination. They may struggle with negative body image perceptions, feeling self-conscious, and experiencing a constant sense of dissatisfaction with their appearance. Such body image issues can lead to a lack of self-confidence and hinder social interactions, potentially leading to isolation and withdrawal from social activities.

Low self-esteem

The negative societal attitudes and self-judgment that individuals with obesity face can contribute to a negative self-image and a diminished sense of self-worth. These feelings of inadequacy and shame can permeate various aspects of their lives, affecting relationships, work performance, and overall life satisfaction.


Research has shown a strong correlation between obesity and depression, with individuals with obesity being more susceptible to developing depressive symptoms. The complex interplay between biological, psychological, and social factors contributes to this association. The constant struggle with weight management, societal pressures, and the emotional toll of obesity can contribute to feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and a loss of interest in previously enjoyed activities.

Addressing the effects of obesity on mental health requires a comprehensive approach. It is crucial to provide support and resources that focus not just on physical health but also on mental well-being. Encouraging body positivity, promoting self-acceptance, and offering counseling or therapy can help individuals develop healthier relationships with their bodies and improve their self-esteem. Additionally, integrating mental health support as part of weight management programs can contribute to better outcomes for individuals dealing with obesity.

Societal impact of obesity

Obesity is not just an individual issue, but a societal problem with far-reaching consequences. The impact of obesity extends beyond personal health and has significant implications for healthcare costs, productivity loss, and social stigma.

Healthcare costs

Obesity-related conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, and certain types of cancer require extensive medical intervention and ongoing treatment. This puts a tremendous burden on healthcare systems, leading to increased expenses for both individuals and society as a whole. The costs associated with managing obesity-related diseases can strain healthcare resources and hinder access to care for other individuals in need.

Productivity loss

Obesity can have a detrimental effect on productivity in the workplace. Individuals with obesity often face challenges such as decreased mobility, chronic pain, and decreased energy levels, which can impact their ability to perform their job effectively. This not only affects their own productivity but also has a ripple effect on the overall productivity of the workforce. Absenteeism, presenteeism (being present but not fully productive), and disability claims related to obesity pose significant economic costs to businesses and ultimately the economy.

Social stigma

There is a pervasive social stigma surrounding obesity that can have profound effects on individuals’ mental and emotional well-being. Obese individuals may face discrimination, bias, and prejudice in various aspects of their lives, including education, employment, and social interactions. This can lead to low self-esteem, depression, and social isolation, further exacerbating the negative impact of obesity on overall quality of life.

Prevention Strategies and Early Intervention

Addressing the obesity epidemic requires a multi-faceted approach that includes prevention strategies and early intervention. By understanding the causes, effects, and solutions of obesity, we can take proactive steps to combat this growing health issue.

Prevention strategies play a crucial role in reducing the prevalence of obesity. It starts with education, raising awareness about healthy eating habits and the importance of regular physical activity. By promoting nutrition education in schools, workplaces, and communities, we can empower individuals to make informed choices about their diet and lifestyle.

Creating environments that support healthy choices is another key aspect of prevention. This includes improving access to affordable, nutritious foods and promoting opportunities for physical activity. By implementing policies that encourage the development of walkable neighborhoods, bike lanes, and recreational facilities, we can make it easier for individuals to incorporate exercise into their daily routines.

Early intervention is essential in addressing obesity among children and adolescents. By identifying and addressing weight-related issues at an early stage, we can prevent long-term consequences and improve overall health outcomes. This may involve regular screenings, counseling on healthy habits, and providing resources and support to families.

Promoting a healthy lifestyle

Promoting a healthy lifestyle is essential when it comes to tackling obesity. One of the key components of a healthy lifestyle is maintaining a balanced diet. A balanced diet ensures that our bodies receive the necessary nutrients, vitamins, and minerals to function optimally.
It is crucial to incorporate a variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats into our daily meals. Avoiding processed foods, sugary drinks, and excessive consumption of high-calorie snacks is also important in maintaining a healthy weight.

Regular exercise is another vital aspect of promoting a healthy lifestyle. Engaging in physical activity not only helps in burning calories but also strengthens our muscles, improves cardiovascular health, and boosts our overall well-being. Aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity exercise per week, along with strength training exercises at least twice a week.

Find activities that you enjoy and can sustain in the long term. Whether it’s walking, jogging, swimming, dancing, or playing sports, incorporating physical activity into your daily routine can make a significant difference in managing and preventing obesity.

By promoting a healthy lifestyle that includes a balanced diet and regular exercise, we can take proactive steps in combating obesity. Small changes can have a big impact on overall health, and adopting these habits can lead to long-lasting positive effects on weight management and overall well-being.

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