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Morbid Obesity Statistics: Alarming Trends and Health Implications

Written by Andrew Le, MD

UpdatedFebruary 22, 2024

In recent years, a concerning 70% increase in individuals with a Body Mass Index (BMI) over 40 indicates a surge in morbid obesity, now known as Class III obesity. This rise, especially in those with a BMI exceeding 50, raises significant global health concerns.

Morbid obesity is linked to severe health problems affecting major organ systems. These include diabetes and high blood pressure impacting the kidneys, sleep apnea affecting the cardiovascular and respiratory systems, arthritis of the joints, and heart disease (e.g., congestive heart failure and coronary artery disease), impacting the cardiovascular system.

Given these trends and health risks, it's vital to address this issue. In this article, we will explore the escalating statistics and profound impacts of morbid obesity on individuals and society.

Editor’s Choice

  • The age-adjusted prevalence of morbid obesity in the US has risen significantly from 5.7% to 9.2% between 2007 and 2018.
  • In the US, between 2017 and 2018, 9% of adults aged 20 to 39 had morbid obesity, varying rates across racial groups—57% for non-Hispanic Black females, 44% for Hispanic females, and 40% for non-Hispanic White females.
  • Morbid obesity is linked to a 6.5 to 13.7-year reduction in life expectancy comparable to smoking. This is primarily due to higher death rates from heart disease, cancer, and diabetes.
  • Bariatric surgery enables rapid weight loss, with patients experiencing up to 77% weight loss within a year, and maintaining a 50-60% excess weight loss over a decade.
  • Hospitals with fewer morbidly obese patients, especially in the lower range, have a 1.5 times higher cesarean delivery rate than the higher range. Severely obese women in lower sextile hospitals are 1.5 times more likely to have a cesarean delivery. Being overweight also increases the chance of needing an emergency C-section based on each hospital's regular cesarean rate.
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What is Morbid Obesity?

Morbid obesity is a chronic disease in which a person has either:

  1. A BMI of at least 40
  2. Has a BMI of at least 35 and at least one obesity-related health condition

This severe medical condition is characterized by an excessive accumulation of body fat, primarily due to a significant imbalance between calorie intake and calorie expenditure.

To gain deeper insights into the prevalence, effects on life expectancy, available treatment options, and its impact during pregnancy, let's explore the statistics and data related to this critical issue.

Prevalence of Morbid Obesity

Morbid obesity is significantly influenced by various factors, including genetics, behavior, and the environment. But to what extent does it prevail? Let's examine the statistics:

1. The age-adjusted prevalence of morbid obesity in the US has increased from 5.7% to 9.2% between 2007 and 2018. (PubMed)

In the US, the age-adjusted prevalence of morbid obesity has increased from 5.7% to 9.2% between 2007 and 2018. This is a significant and concerning rise, indicating a growing number of individuals with severe obesity.

Projections for the future are alarming, with estimates suggesting that by 2030, almost one-fourth of all US. adults will be severely obese. This indicates a potential future health crisis, as morbid obesity is associated with increased health risks and complications.

2. Between 2017 and 2018, 9% of adults in the US aged 20 to 39 were classified as having morbid obesity. (PubMed)

In the US, 9% of adults aged 20 to 39 fall into this category, indicating a notable prevalence of severe obesity.

The percentages below represent the prevalence of morbid obesity within specific racial groups in the US:

  • Non-Hispanic Black females: 57%
  • Hispanic females: 44%
  • Non-Hispanic White females: 40%
  • Non-Hispanic Asian females: 17.2%

Meanwhile, in Finland, severe obesity among mothers of singletons was 1.91% in 2018, revealing a substantial 103% increase since 2004. These figures underscore the global challenge of rising rates of morbid obesity and stress the urgency of implementing comprehensive strategies to address this significant public health concern.

Morbid Obesity’s Impact on Life Expectancy

Life expectancy is typically lower in individuals with morbid obesity than those with a healthy weight. Numerous studies consistently demonstrate a correlation between obesity and various health issues. Let's explore this correlation below.

3. Being morbidly obese reduces life expectancy by 6.5-13.7 years. (PubMed)

Morbid obesity significantly raises the risk of premature death. It can potentially shorten life by 6.5 to 13.7 years compared to individuals with a normal BMI.

A comprehensive analysis of 20 studies revealed higher death rates, mainly attributed to heart disease, certain cancers, and diabetes. This reduction in life expectancy is comparable to or even worse than the impact of smoking.

With global obesity rates rising, addressing this public health concern is crucial to curb the increase in deaths and healthcare costs.

💡 Did You Know?

Obesity is linked to a higher likelihood of developing 13 types of cancer, comprising 40% of all cancer cases in the US. These include breast cancer, endometrial cancer, ovarian cancer, and more.

Treatment and Surgery for Morbid Obesity

Managing morbid obesity includes lifestyle adjustments, dietary changes, and when needed, bariatric surgery. The following outlines the effectiveness of bariatric surgery in achieving weight loss:

4. Bariatric surgery enables rapid weight loss, up to 77%. (UIHC)

Post bariatric surgery, patients can experience substantial weight loss. Within six months, they may lose 30-50% of excess weight and up to 77% within a year. Clinical studies indicate continuous weight loss for 18 to 24 months after surgery.

5. Bariatric surgery patients can maintain a 50-60% weight loss for over a decade. (UIHC)

Bariatric surgery patients can maintain a 50-60% excess weight loss for over a decade. The degree of weight loss is influenced by the patient's initial weight and the presence of Type 2 diabetes.

Those with higher initial weight tend to lose more, while patients with diabetes may experience less weight loss.

Effects of Morbid Obesity on Pregnancy

Pregnancy-related effects of morbid obesity can include increased risks for complications such as gestational diabetes, preeclampsia, and cesarean section. Additionally, obesity may contribute to fertility problems and increase the likelihood of congenital disabilities. Here are some statistics on its pregnancy-related effects:

6. Cesarean delivery rates are 1.5 times higher in hospitals where morbid obesity is less prevalent. (Ajog)

A study using Pacific Northwest hospital data (2012-2017) found severe obesity in hospitals with lower rates correlated with a higher likelihood of cesarean delivery. This suggests less experienced hospitals may opt for CD more readily, reflecting a lower threshold than more experienced counterparts.

Further research is needed to understand the factors influencing cesarean delivery variations in different hospital settings.

7. Labor induction poses additional challenges, necessitating an extra four hours in cases of morbid obesity. (Science Direct)

Labor induction is notably more challenging for individuals with severe obesity, requiring approximately four extra hours for those with a BMI of 50 or higher to achieve full dilation.

Standard induction methods might not work as effectively for highly obese individuals, and more research is needed to determine the best approaches for labor induction in this population.

Final Thoughts

The data above clearly illustrates that morbid obesity is a significant issue. Therefore, combatting this problem is paramount, given its severe health implications.

Achieving success in addressing morbid obesity necessitates a comprehensive approach, encompassing public health initiatives, educational efforts, policy reforms, and enhanced access to healthcare and nutritious food.

FAQs on Morbid Obesity

What is the connection between morbid obesity and sleep apnea?

Morbid obesity heightens the risk of sleep apnea. The extra fat increases neck size, a key factor in obstructive sleep apnea, and adds pressure on the chest, leading to breathing problems, particularly during REM sleep.

How does morbid obesity contribute to respiratory problems?

Morbidly obese individuals often experience respiratory problems due to the extra weight pressing on their chest and lungs. This can lead to difficulties in breathing, reduced lung function, and an increased risk of conditions like asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

Is joint pain common in morbidly obese individuals?

Yes, morbid obesity can exacerbate joint pain, particularly in weight-bearing joints like the knees and hips. The excess weight puts additional strain on these joints, which can lead to osteoarthritis and chronic pain.

Do mental health issues accompany morbid obesity?

Morbid obesity is often associated with mental health conditions, including depression, anxiety, and low self-esteem. Coping with the physical and societal consequences of obesity can significantly impact one's mental well-being.

Can morbid obesity lead to social isolation and stroke risk?

Yes, morbid obesity can heighten social isolation due to stigma and hindered social activities. Additionally, it raises the risk of stroke by contributing to factors like high blood pressure and diabetes.

Illustration of a healthcare provider asking questions on a smart phone.
Virtual weight loss solution
A personalized GLP-1 medication program (eg. Wegovy, Ozempic), delivered to you via our partner Korb Health
Illustration of a healthcare provider asking questions on a smart phone.
  • Free consultation; program starts at $269/mo
  • Checkmark Inside Circle.Customized online program and wellness coaching
  • Prescription medications and supplies shipped to your door