What Is Morbid Obesity? What Is Morbid Obesity?

What Is Morbid Obesity?


Following the body mass index (BMI) formula, morbid obesity is also known as class 3 obesity. A person who falls into class 3 obesity has a BMI of 40 or higher. Generally, being overweight means having fewer economic and social opportunities, a lower quality of life, and a higher risk of diabetes, hypertension, and heart disease.


There is also a risk of poor medical care for people with class 3 obesity. Research shows that medical professionals with weight bias deny quality and compassionate care to obese patients. Finding a healthcare provider you trust and with who you feel comfortable discussing your health goals is essential if you are obese.


This article discusses the causes and risks of class 3 obesity and weight loss strategies that can help those trying to lose weight.

What Is Morbid Obesity?

An individual with morbid obesity is classified according to their body mass index (BMI). Obesity class 3 is a body mass index of 40 or greater. Rather than using the term "morbid obesity," many healthcare professionals now refer to it as "class 3 obesity."


The term "morbid obesity" was first used in the 1960s to get insurance companies to cover gastric bypass surgeries. "Morbid" describes illness or disease in the medical community. Still, outside of the medical field, the term also carries negative and unpleasant connotations, contributing to the stigma associated with obesity.


Further, the word "obesity" derives from the Latin "to eat oneself fat," which implies that all people with obesity are wholly responsible for their weight, ignoring biological, environmental, and genetic factors. As a result, many people find the term "morbid obesity" stigmatising. Even though "class 3 obesity" still uses the word "obesity," many providers prefer to use the term "morbid obesity."  

Understanding Body Mass Index

The body mass index (BMI) is a debated measurement developed by Belgian statistician and sociologist Adolphe Quetelet. He developed the BMI in the 1800s as a sociology project to identify common characteristics of what he viewed as the "ideal man." The data he used to build the BMI included weight and height measurements from white, Western European men but excluded data from people of colour and women. Over half of the obesity cases in people of colour and women cannot be detected by BMI, according to 2011 data.


BMI is a controversial and imperfect medical tool. However, doctors still use it today, mainly due to its simplicity. A person's height and weight are all you need to calculate their BMI. Even though this information can be helpful on a population level, BMI is an unreliable measure of individual health because it needs to include the current understanding of body composition.


Therefore, an individual's BMI is just one aspect of their health. It is important to consider other diagnostic tools, such as body composition analysis, waist circumference analysis, blood tests, and more, to get a complete understanding of one's health. 


What Causes Morbid Obesity?

It is multifactorial, which means a variety of factors can cause it. Studies have found that obesity is extremely heritable, which means that genetics plays a key role in obesity development,

Several other factors can contribute to the development of class 3 obesity, including:

  • Exercise or physical activity is reduced

  • Insomnia (A condition in which you have difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep)

  • The endocrine system

  • Medications

  • Living in a food desert

  • Deflation

  • Metabolism of energy is reduced

What Risks Are Associated With Morbid Obesity?

Obesity class 3 is associated with chronic diseases and other conditions such as:

  • Diabetes type 2

  • Heart failure

  • Chronic kidney disease

  • Cancers of certain types

  • Sexual and gynaecological problems

  • Osteoarthritis

  • The depression

  • Issues with breathing

  • Life quality is lower

How Is Morbid Obesity Diagnosed?

BMI is required for diagnosing class 3 obesity. Your doctor should offer more tests for more accurate and personalised health analysis. The following tools can also be used for evaluation:

  • Bioelectric impedance analysis

  • Imaging scans like CTs or MRIs

  • Bone density tests

  • Water displacement test

  • Air densitometry studies


Laboratory tests, including:

  • Complete blood analysis

  • Basic metabolic panel

  • Renal function test

  • liver function study

  • Lipid panel

  • HbA1C

  • TSH

  • Urinalysis

How Do You Treat Morbid Obesity?

Your health and medical needs will determine how you are treated for class 3 obesity. To have an informed conversation with your healthcare provider about your options and strategies, it's essential to have the right tests performed. Speak with your provider about safe and sustainable methods to lose weight safely and sustainably.


Making Lifestyle Changes

Lifestyle changes can improve your health and support weight loss based on your lifestyle habits and socioeconomic environment. To improve your health and lose weight, working with your healthcare provider to set safe and attainable physical exercise goals and consulting a dietician are two of the most effective strategies.


Behavioural Therapy

There is evidence that eating disorders contribute to 50% of cases of severe obesity. An eating disorder associated with obesity can be treated with behavioural therapy by using psychotherapy approaches and repairing an individual's relationship with food. Several behavioural therapy approaches are used in the treatment of obesity, including motivational interviewing (MI), behavioural therapy (BT), cognitive therapy (CT), interpersonal therapy (IT), and acceptance-based therapy (ABT).



The use of prescription medications for weight loss is available for people with obesity. Medications used to treat obesity include:

  • Semaglutide (Wegovy)

  • Liraglutide (Saxenda)

  • Orlistat (Xenical)

  • Phentermine-topiramate (Qsymia)

  • Naltrexone-bupropion (Contrave)
  • Setmelanotide (IMCIVREE)


Discuss the potential benefits and risks of a new weight loss medication with your doctor before starting it.


Undergoing Surgery

Surgery is an option for those suffering from class 3 obesity and severe health conditions associated with their weight. Surgical weight loss procedures include:

  • Gastric banding

  • Rou-en-Y gastric bypass

  • Sleeve gastrectomy


Discuss lifestyle changes and post-surgery care with your provider before considering this option and the risks involved. Many complications are associated with weight loss surgery, including infection, postoperative bleeding, malabsorption, vitamin and mineral deficiencies, and cardiac events.


Several serious health conditions and increased mortality are associated with obesity, including class 3 obesity, due in part to the stigmas obese people face when trying to access high-quality medical care. Despite the difficulty of getting quality care if you're obese, it's essential to live a healthy and high-quality life. Finding a healthcare provider you trust and with whom you can work together on your health goals is essential for improving your health outcomes.


Can Morbid Obesity be Prevented?

Most cases of class 3 obesity cannot be entirely prevented, especially those caused or exacerbated by genetics, biology, socioeconomic environment, or a combination of these factors. There are, however, some things that can help prevent class 3 obesity and manage your weight, including:


  • Nutritional diets

  • Regular exercise

  • Sleeping enough and regularly

  • Stress management

Frequently Asked Questions


Morbid Obesity: What Does It Mean?

Class 3 obesity is characterised by a high body mass index (BMI). Obesity class 3 is defined as having a BMI over 40.


How Are Overweight And Morbidly Obese Different?

BMI (body mass index) determines whether someone is overweight or morbidly obese. A person's BMI is calculated by multiplying their weight by their height in meters squared. Overweight is defined as having a BMI of 25-29, while morbidly obese is defined as having a BMI of 40 or higher.


How Can Obesity Be classified?

Based on the BMI, obesity is classified into three categories: class 1 obesity, class 2 obesity, and class 3 obesity.


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