What is Morbid Obesity?

"Obesity" means severely overweight. "Morbid" means causing illness or disease. "Morbid obesity" means severe obesity to the point when the excessive fat stores cause or aggravate serious, life-threatening illnesses, called "co-morbidities."

Studies have demonstrated that, over a certain body mass index (BMI), a person's risk of death (morbidity) increases according to their degree of obesity. In other words, the more overweight a person is, the more likely that his or her lifespan will be shorter. Morbid obesity is defined as a BMI greater than 40.

In 1980, Dr. E.J. Drenick published an article in the Journal of the American Medical Association, where he studied 200 morbidly obese men between the ages of 25 and 35, all of whom had a BMI greater than 40. After seven years, he found that 50 men out of the 200 had died. He concluded that if a person were morbidly obese, he or she were 12 times more likely to die early than a non-obese person.

A more recent study, published in 1999 in the New England Journal of Medicine, looked at one million people over 14 years of age and showed that there was a direct correlation between increasing BMI and risk of death, regardless of the actual cause of death. However, the most common cause of death in obese people was heart attack.