Morbid Obesity: Causes, Symptoms & Complications

This won’t shock you because it’s easy to see it everywhere you look, but more than one third of U.S. adults are obese*.  Malaysia isn’t far behind, with around 14% of the population ringing in as officially obese and rising rapidly.**

What’s happening in these 2 countries is happening in every developed nation: we’re all getting bigger and bigger.  Some of us are even putting our lives in danger, while others are simply less healthy because of some extra fat.  


What is Obesity?

Is your life seriously affected by carrying around extra weight?  Is your life in danger?   To make sense of the statistics above, you have to understand what obesity actually means.  It’s not the same as being overweight…you’d really cringe if you saw the stats for the overweight population (Malaysia: 42%).

Doctors classify overweight people into 3 categories- find out which one you belong to…and if it’s the third type below, it’s definitely time to do something about it.

  • Level 1: Overweight.  BMI of greater than or equal to 23+.
  • Level 2: BMI of greater than or equal to 30.
  • Level 3: Morbidly Obese. BMI of greater than or equal to 37 (the benchmark in Western countries is 40)


Here, we’re concerned with that last level, which is also called clinically severe obesity.  We’ll explore the causes, symptoms and complications of having a Body Mass Index of over 37, and what it’s like to be so overweight your life is in danger.

But first, let’s get a few definitions out of the way.  There’s one term in particular that we hear all the time in the news, the social media, and in hospitals around the nation….and that’s obesity.


What is the Difference Between Obesity and Being Overweight?

Overweight vs. Obese vs. Morbidly Obese It’s all a simple matter of numbers.  When your Body Mass Index is between 24 and 30, you are simply overweight.  If your BMI is above 30, then you’re obese.

The difference between being overweight and being obese boils down to having a lot of extra fat stored on your body in the case of obesity.  In the case of morbid obesity, the fat hinders your life and also presents immediate, dangerous health threats.  Here are more differences:



  • a global problem affecting almost 2 billion people***
  • does not necessarily mean you have excess fat on your body (sometimes athletes are technically “overweight” but it’s muscle)
  • a relatively simple problem solved by eating less and exercising more



  • mainly a problem of developed countries affecting 600 million people***
  • not such an easy problem to solve, especially for the long term
  • it’s a medical condition with risk factors
  • is life shortening


Morbidly Obese

  • ruled as a disability in Europe
  • 4% of Americans are morbidly obese
  • usually requires medical attention, not just willpower, to fix
  • is life threatening

People who are morbidly obese should find a solution before the health conditions stemming from their situation become fatal or permanent.  In many cases, surgery for obesity is the best solution. So, what are the symptoms and complications of morbid obesity?


The Causes of Morbid Obesity

Most people mistakenly assume that morbid obesity is caused by eating too much and not exercising enough.  While this may be partly true, it’s never the whole story. There’s usually something else at play to cause a person to become 45kg (or more) overweight.  This can be any number of things including:

  • genetics: your body doesn’t hear signals from the brain that tells it that it’s full, and to stop eating
  • thyroid problems: hypothyroidism- you must see your doctor for medication.  In this case, surgery for obesity will not work
  • environmental factors: sedentary lifestyle, easy access to high calorie foods etc will make any genetic predisposition you have to being overweight and magnify it dramatically


Symptoms of Morbid Obesity

How do you know whether you’re morbidly obese?  The one true indicator is your BMI…if its over 37 then consider yourself morbidly obese and get to a doctor to seek help before it’s too late.  You may be a prime candidate for surgery for your obesity, which could save your life.


Complications of Morbid Obesity

Being morbidly obese isn’t just embarrassing, uncomfortable, and inconvenient…its dangerous to your health and life-threatening.  Here’s a sobering list of serious health problems you’re facing if you are morbidly obese:

  • coronary heart disease
  • type 2 diabetes
  • sleep apnea
  • stroke
  • osteoarthritis
  • high blood pressure
  • hypertension
  • depression
  • joint issues


In fact, this condition can make you generally more susceptible to almost any health problem because your body is not in a healthy state.  You’re more prone to injury, immune-related illness, and all sorts of lesser conditions that’s on the list of serious health issues above.

Not only that, but the effects of long-term morbid obesity are even worse.  Your body simply cannot sustain 45 or more extra kilos decade after decade and will eventually deteriorate to a point where your life will be in danger.  Your lifespan is shortened by being morbidly obese, and that’s where this condition got its name.

Across the globe the consensus is clear, no matter who you consult: get yourself to a doctor.  He or she will advise you on how to proceed and will assess your options with you.  In many cases like yours, it’s suggested that surgery for obesity be considered.  Only your doctor can tell if you’re a good candidate for weight loss surgery, so again: please see a doctor if you are morbidly obese.

*Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  Adult Obesity Facts.  Retrieved 7 March 2015.

**Source: World Health Organization.  “Global Health Observatory Data Repository.  Obesity (body mass index >= 30)” Retrieved 7/March 2015.

***Source: World Health Organization. “Obesity and Overweight“.  Retrieved 7 March 2015.


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