Morbid Obesity

Morbid obesity. What does it mean to be morbidly obese? The connotations are massive-pardon the pun. But how big is too big? Humor me while I attempt to breakdown the phrase and define its parts and hopefully arrive at a better understanding of the whole meaning. I’ll offer up several definitions at first and then tie them all together at the end.


Definition 1: abnormal and unhealthy

As the title of my blog, Morbid Curiosity, infers, morbid refers to an appeal to an abnormal interest in disturbing and unpleasant subjects such as death and disease. This definition satisfies one connotation of the first word in the term morbid obesity. Do you remember Paramount Pictures 1993 box office hit, What’s Eating Gilbert Grape? A woman so large that people gawked at her and tormented her for her condition to the point that she closed herself off to the world which only exacerbated her situation.

Definition 2: indicative of disease

Several terms are used interchangeably to denote sickness, those terms being disease, illness, disorder, medical condition, and morbidity. Morbidity is derived from the Latin morbidus, meaning “sick, or unhealthy.” The term may be used to refer to a disability due to any cause-including obesity.

Definition 3: incidence rate, or the prevalence of a disease

According to National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, obesity is an epidemic in the United States. Some would blame fast food industry for the root cause of the epidemic. What do you believe? Whatever your persuasion you should watch Morgan Spurlock’s documentary, Super Size Me?  You be the judge.


Definition 1: medical condition in which excess body fat is accumulated on the body

Degree of obesity is measured by a calculation called body mass index (BMI). BMI is closely related to body fat percentage, but how closely is the question. BMI is calculated by dividing mass in kilograms by height in meters squared. Can you see a problem with an algorithm that simple? Body fat percentage does not take into account height and weight but rather relative body composition, gender, and age. The best course of action is to use both calculations side by side.

One prominent issue with BMI is the dilemma of where to draw the line between normal and obese. The United States has adopted values published by World Health Organization (WHO) where BMI over 25 is considered overweight and anything over 30 is obese, whereas other countries such as China and Japan have defined obesity as anything over 28 and 25, respectively.  Secondly, the equation doesn’t take into account gender, bone density, water weight, or muscle mass. For example, compare a woman to a man both measuring 5 foot 6 inches and weighing 160 pounds each (BMI = 72.5748/2.8103= 25.8246), their BMI will be the same but their percent body fat may be vastly different. The man may have 18% body fat and be healthy for his age, but according to Japan’s BMI standards he is borderline obese. The woman in our example may have less muscle mass than the man with the same BMI, and her percent body fat could easily be around 30% which would be considered obese by some standards, but within normal limits according to U.S. BMI standards. (See ideal body fat percentage chart by clicking the following link.)

Definition 2: weighing too much

There are many reasons why somebody could weigh too much. Some of those reasons include having extra muscle mass, heavier bones, excess water retention, as well as having too much fat. It is important to understand your whole health rather than to limit your understanding by only seeing a number on the bathroom scale. Web MD has a great article related to diet and nutrition at the following link:

Final definition: Combining the definitions above we can determine morbid obesity to be defined as a chronic, unhealthy condition wherein a person weighs too much due to excess body fat. Too much body fat will eventually lead to disability and even death.

How, then, does one become healthy? Where to begin? A good way to manage your fitness is to keep a journal of your exercise and food consumption. Don’t worry about counting and cutting calories just yet. Begin by recording what you currently eat and the types of exercise you currently perform. Exercise might include walking the dog or climbing a flight of stairs. The bottom line is that you can’t reach your end point without first determining your starting point. I like to use a tool called My Fitness Pal. I downloaded the application on my desktop, my iPhone, and my Android tablet. Each version of the application keeps track of what is recorded in the other making it very versatile and easy to use. The application will allow you can publish your accomplishments on Facebook or keep them to yourself. I would encourage you to share your progress with friends. Friends can help to motivate you.

Once you’ve discovered the “As Is” position of your fitness level, begin by adding simple exercises such as using the stairs rather than the elevator. Count how many stairs you climb each day and remember to record the time you spend doing each of your new activities. For example, if you take the pooch out for a walk in the morning record the length of time for the round trip. Next, decide what calories in your current daily diet can be substituted with healthy calories or perhaps eliminated from your diet entirely. Remember, starving yourself will not help you attain a healthy weight.

Please consult your physician before making any drastic changes to your diet. That being said, a healthy caloric intake for an adult male is between 1300 and 2000 calories per day depending upon amount of exercise and current fitness level. A healthy caloric intake for an adult female is between 1200 and 1600 depending on current fitness goals and amount of exercise. There is a good calorie calculator at the following website: This calculator will take into account age, weight, height and even give you several options related to what you want to accomplish such as maintenance or weight loss.

In closing I’d like to introduce another perspective on obesity in America. It’s not common knowledge that medical examiner’s offices have begun purchasing bariatric autopsy tables to support larger clients. The tables are 10 inches wider than the standard autopsy table making them 42 inches wide, overall. (The following link illustrates the tabletop size of a stationary bariatric autopsy table: Doorways and hallways must be widened to accommodate mobile bariatric autopsy tables. Mortuary cots and gurneys have also been upgraded to handle up to 1000 pounds as before they could only handle about half that weight. Did you also know that mortuaries and funeral homes charge more for obese clients due to extra embalming and larger caskets? The point I’m trying to make is that obesity will affect a person even after death.


7 responses to “Morbid Obesity

  1. Crazy. I think that we tend to forget that weight is not only a vanity issue, but truly a matter of life and death.

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