• Bookmark this Page
  • Print this Page


If you’ve struggled with a severe weight problem that neither diet nor exercise has helped, you're not alone. More than 1.5 million Americans are 100 pounds or more overweight or have a Body Mass Index (BMI) above 35. For these people, losing weight is more than a matter of appearance -- it is critical to their health.

Obesity contributes to 300,000 deaths each year and is the second preventable cause of death behind smoking.

Obesity puts you at risk for health conditions including:

  • Type 2 diabetes 
  • Hypertension/high blood pressure 
  • Heart disease 
  • Stroke 
  • Sleep apnea 
  • Respiratory problems 
  • Cancer
  • Osteoarthritis 
  • Joint problems 

Determining Obesity

For adults, overweight and obesity ranges are determined by using weight and height numbers to calculate the BMI.

  • An adult with a BMI of 18.5 to 24.9 is considered normal.
  • An adult with a BMI between 25 and 29.9 is considered overweight.
  • An adult with a BMI of 30 or higher is considered obese.
  • An adult with a BMI of 40 or higher is considered morbidly obese.

Other methods of estimating body fat and body fat distribution include measurements of skinfold thickness and your waist, calculation of waist-to-hip ratios and scanning techniques such as ultrasound, computed tomography and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).

Morbid Obesity

Morbid obesity (a BMI of 40 or higher) greatly increases the chance of developing health conditions that can result in significant physical, mental and social disabilities and can even be fatal. Those with morbid obesity, as well as those with a BMI of 35 or higher with significant related health problems, may be considered candidates for bariatric surgery.

The cause of obesity is not the same for every person. Body weight is the result of many factors, including the following:

  • Energy Balance -- Your body needs calories to function. When you consume more than you need, your body stores the energy for future use as fat. A lack of physical activity also contributes to an energy imbalance. Time- and labor-saving devices such as cars and elevators, along with an increase in jobs that are inactive, has decreased the overall amount of physical activity that Americans get.
  • Heredity -- While heredity can play a role in weight gain, it is not the leading factor. Too little physical activity and excess calorie consumption often accompany genetic predisposition in contributing to excess weight.
  • Metabolism -- Metabolism is a calorie-burning process by which the body breaks down substances so that it can extract what it needs to live. The rate of metabolism varies among individuals and can be affected by a number of diseases. It is best to consult your physician about them.
  • Eating and Social Habits -- America offers many food choices in large amounts that are often high in calories, fat and sugar. Nutritional information can often be deceptive, masking high calories with a "low-fat" label, for instance. Social occasions often revolve around foods and can contribute to weight gain.
  • Psychological Factors -- Psychological factors can influence eating habits and physical activity. Negative emotions can lead to overeating and a lack of exercise, which in turn can lead to more negative emotions, triggering a vicious cycle.

Obesity is a chronic disease. The good news is that treatment exists.

Back to Top