Bariatrics and the Dangers of Obesity

The Centers for Disease Control informs us that in 2003 nearly a third of adults were obese. “Obesity” is defined roughly as more than 20% over your ‘ideal’ weight. In most cases that translates to a BMI about 30 or greater. Five percent of those were estimated as morbidly obese (BMI > 40). Many people suffering from this condition choose bariatric surgery. It’s a wise choice. Obesity is dangerous to health.

Note that BMI is calculated by weight divided by height x height, or BMI = [W / (HxH)]. It’s not a magic number that tells all but it is a useful beginning guideline when examining obesity. People with a BMI of 35 or higher experience health problems at a much higher rate than those with lower numbers, especially in their senior years.

Any bariatric procedure carries risks, sometimes serious sometimes minor. It’s a tough road, taking at least two years to travel and it’s not a good alternative to lack of willpower. Post-op patients will still need plenty to stick with the recommended post-surgery diet and lifestyle changes. Even so, morbid obesity carries serious health risks and those dangers have already done harm before the surgery has even become an option.

Sometimes, that harm is as relatively mild as sleep apnea. A short cessation of breathing during sleep doesn’t produce anything so radical as brain damage. But it does lead to restlessness and other sleep interruption or deprivation effects. Sleep apnea is just one of many all-too-common effects of morbid obesity.

Another common risk is hip and other bone problems, and one that’s potentially much more serious. Excess weight obviously adds stress on the joints, but that’s only one problem. Morbid obesity produces hormonal changes that change how nutrients are absorbed and used in the body. It interferes with calcium intake and absorption; that leads to a higher incidence of osteoporosis (a kind of bone weakening). Couple that with a more sedentary, low-exercise lifestyle and you get a doubly undesirable combination.

Excess body fat greatly increases the odds of diabetes. It’s more than a minor inconvenience to measure blood glucose/insulin level and to self-inject insulin daily. That is the least of the potential problems from this disease.

Long-term high blood glucose levels increase blood pressure, bringing with it a variety of health problems. Higher likelihood of aneurisms (a factor in stroke) and increased odds of heart attack are just two. Diabetes also degrades blood vessels in the eyes, which can ó and often does ó lead later in life to reduced vision and even blindness.

The January, 2006 Journal of the American Medical Association reported on a study undertaken by Northwestern University that followed more than 17,600 individuals for 32 years. It looked at the relationship between BMI, age, and the risk of heart disease. Those who are morbidly obese have nearly twice the risk of heart attack between the ages of 31 and 64 compared to similar age individuals of normal weight.

There’s a lot of hype in the health and nutrition field. But the health dangers of morbid obesity are not just alarmist reporting, they’re real. Fortunately, bariatric surgery is an option for most and those who have committed to the process overwhelmingly report they’re happy they did.