Bariatric Program

Obesity Frequently Asked Questions

Obesity is one of the leading causes of death and disability in the United States and now surpasses malnutrition as a cause of death worldwide. But being overweight is not always due to a lack of willpower or exercise.

Studies show that obesity is linked to a number of factors – some controllable and some not. These include behavior, genetics, environment, socioeconomics and metabolism. For some people, no amount of dieting or exercising alone will help.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), obesity is a disease affecting more than 42% of adult Americans. This is compared with some 74% of adult Americans who are considered overweight, including those who are obese. Obesity also impacts more than 18% of children in the U.S.

Globally, the number of people with obesity has tripled since the 1970s. The World Health Organization estimates 13% of the world population is now considered obese and the numbers may actually be higher.

Bariatric surgery may be the best option for long-term weight loss. Find out if you're a candidate >

Obesity directly impacts your emotional and physical well–being. Being obese means you are at a higher risk of developing chronic conditions such as:

  • High blood pressure and high cholesterol
  • Heart disease and stroke
  • GERD
  • Arthritis
  • Sleep apnea
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Cancers
  • Anxiety and depression

The Difference Between Overweight and Obese

People who are overweight or obese have an increased risk of developing health problems, such as diabetes and heart disease.

If you have a body mass index (BMI) of 25 to 30, you’re considered overweight. If you’re overweight, losing even 5% of your body weight reduces your risk of developing chronic conditions.

If you have a BMI greater than 30, you’re considered obese.

What Is Obesity?

Obesity is a condition in which the body stores excess energy in the form of fat. You’re considered obese if you weigh 20% or more over your ideal body weight or have a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or more.

Obesity is also categorized by severity:

  • Class 1: BMI of 30 to <35
  • Class 2: BMI of 35 to <40
  • Class 3: BMI of 40 or higher

Our BMI calculator will let you easily calculate your BMI:

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Underweight = Less than 18
Healthy weight = 18–24.9
Overweight = 25–29.9
Obese = 30–34.9
Severely obese = 35–39.9
Morbidly obese = 40 and over

What Is Morbid Obesity?

Morbid obesity is a condition in which individuals are at least 100 pounds over their ideal weight or have a body mass index of 40 or higher. Morbid obesity can result from emotional, biochemical and genetic influences. It’s a potentially dangerous condition because it’s a risk factor for other medical problems that may lead to disability and early death.

If you have a BMI of greater than 40, your risk of premature death increases by 50% to 100%. Obesity is linked to dozens of chronic diseases, including type 2 diabetes, heart disease and stroke, high blood pressure, liver disease and infertility.

What Are the Leading Causes of Obesity?

Obesity is a chronic disease that progresses over time. While poor lifestyle choices do contribute, it is now known that environment, genetics, metabolism, behavior and socioeconomic factors play an important and complex role.

Treatment Options

What Are the Most Common Treatment Options for Obesity?

Obesity treatments include a combination of diet and nutritional modification with counseling support, lifestyle changes and a consistent exercise program. Medications may also be prescribed.

In some cases, bariatric surgery may be an option. These include Roux-en-Y gastric bypass and gastric sleeve, also known as sleeve gastrectomy.

Are There Medications That Treat Obesity?

GLP-1 agonist medications like Ozempic (semaglutide) give healthcare providers another tool to help people manage their obesity. As standalone treatments, these medications generally help people at the lower end of the obesity spectrum. However, these drugs are not a substitute for a healthy diet and exercise, which must be a part of any serious weight management plan. 

Before prescribing a medication to help you lose weight, your doctor will consider many factors, including your body mass index (BMI) level, co-existing conditions, other prescribed medications, and potential side effects, to determine if these medications may be right for you. 

In some cases, these medications may be used in combination with bariatric surgery to attain health goals. Every patient is different, and your physician will consider all aspects of your health prior to determine the right treatment plan for you. 

Are There Surgical Options for the Treatment of Obesity?

Bariatric surgery is a treatment option for obesity, depending on certain criteria. Two types of bariatric surgery offered at Temple Health include Roux-en-Y gastric bypass and gastric sleeve.

Both are highly effective options for losing a significant amount of weight, and keeping it off long-term.

To find out if bariatric surgery is right for you, attend a live virtual informational seminar on Zoom. Or, sign up for our on-demand seminar to watch whenever it's convenient for you.

Becoming Pregnant

Does Obesity Affect Fertility?

Obesity affects your hormones and can lead to insulin resistance. As a result, women who are obese have higher rates of menstrual dysfunction, including lack of periods or irregular periods. This causes problems in the production and release of eggs, resulting in infertility.

Obesity also affects a woman’s chances of getting pregnant through assisted means, such as IVF (in-vitro fertilization).

Does Obesity Affect Pregnancy?

During pregnancy, obesity puts pregnant women at risk for certain serious conditions, such as gestational diabetes (too much sugar in the blood) and preeclampsia (high blood pressure during pregnancy).

Obesity also increases the risk of miscarriage, birth defects and pre-term birth. Losing even 5% of your total weight prior to pregnancy improves your chances of having a healthy pregnancy.

What are the Health Problems Associated with Obesity?

Obesity can affect the body negatively in a number of ways, from heart problems to breathing difficulties. Many of the health problems associated with obesity include:

Breathing Problems

Obesity can lead to changes in the way you breathe. With weight gain, fat tends to accumulate around your neck and abdomen, placing greater pressure on your breathing muscles. This fat, called adipose tissue, also releases hormones called cytokines that are linked to inflammation.

This combination can lead to a decrease in lung function, making it more difficult for you to breathe. If obesity causes you to become less active, this also contributes, as you are no longer exercising your breathing muscles.

Obesity Hypoventilation Syndrome (OHS)

Some people with obesity develop a breathing condition called obesity hypoventilation syndrome. OHS is when you're not moving enough air in and out of your lungs. This leads to problems such as:

  • Daytime sleepiness
  • Lack of energy
  • Difficulty breathing.

Obesity hypoventilation syndrome can also lead to sleep apnea, a condition that causes you to take a pause in your breathing while you sleep. If left untreated, OHS can lead to other conditions, such as pulmonary hypertension and advanced heart failure.

Shortness of Breath

Breathing problems linked to obesity can lead to shortness of breath. This is when you have difficulty breathing or feel like you cannot catch your breath.

If your shortness of breath is a new problem, or if your shortness of breath worsens suddenly, and is accompanied by symptoms of chest pain, wheezing, cough or fever, call 911 or go to the nearest emergency room.

Heart and Vascular Disease

Obesity can lead to high blood pressure, which is associated with risk of heart disease, kidney failure and stroke.

Heart Disease

If you are obese, your heart has to work much harder than that of a person of normal weight. The additional stress on your heart may lead to heart disease, including congestive heart failure.

High Cholesterol

Cholesterol is often elevated in those who are severely overweight. This may lead to hardening of the blood vessels and heart disease.


An overweight person is 10 times more likely than a person of normal weight to develop Type 2 (adult-onset) diabetes. Diabetes is a major cause of adult-onset blindness, kidney failure and over one-half of all limb amputations. It's also the third leading cause of death in the United States.

Asthma and Bronchitis

Obesity does not directly cause asthma or bronchitis, but can interfere with breathing and aggravate an attack.

Sleep Apnea

Sleep apnea, usually associated with loud snoring, is a serious condition that occurs when soft tissue in the throat collapses, causing a complete blockage of the throat. If you have sleep apnea, you may wake up with a headache and fall asleep during the day.

Sleep apnea is a life-threatening problem that can cause sudden death. It can also lead to high blood pressure and heart rhythm disturbances.

Muscle, Joint and Spine Problems

Being overweight compresses the spine, resulting in arthritis or a slipped disk. The nerve roots can also be irritated or compressed leading to sciatica, which is an intense pain down the outside of the leg. The hips, knees, ankles and feet also bear much of the weight of the body. These joints tend to wear out sooner, resulting in degenerative arthritis.

Joint replacement surgery may be needed to relieve the pain. Joint replacement surgery is often avoided in severely overweight patients due to poor results.

Stress Urinary Incontinence

A large, heavy abdomen may weaken the valve on the urinary bladder leading to leakage of urine when coughing, sneezing or laughing.

Venous Stasis

The veins of the lower legs carry blood back to the heart and are equipped with an elaborate system of delicate, one-way valves. When the valves are damaged, the blood in the veins backs up, resulting in leg swelling, thickening and sometimes ulceration of the skin.

Hormone Abnormalities in Women

Obesity can cause certain female sex hormones to become unbalanced. As a result, women may become unable to conceive and develop ovarian cysts or irregular menstrual periods.

Heartburn and GERD

Increased stomach pressure from abdominal fat results in a high rate of heartburn or gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), which causes belching, heartburn pain and a sour taste in the mouth.

Page medically reviewed by:
Rohit Soans, MD
October 19, 2021