Symptoms of Obesity

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The symptoms of obesity go beyond excess body fat. Skin problems, shortness of breath, trouble sleeping, and more can affect someone with obesity.

Some symptoms may increase your risk of developing certain diseases and disorders. In some cases, these may be life-threatening or even fatal.

This article explains the difference between being overweight and having the disease of obesity. It also describes obesity signs and symptoms in children and adults, as well as possible complications.

obesity symptoms
Verywell / Lara Antal

Obesity and BMI

To diagnose obesity, a healthcare professional uses a measurement system called the body mass index (BMI). Your BMI is a number that's calculated using your height and body weight.

The following chart shows how your BMI corresponds to your weight status.

BMI WEIGHT STATUS
Below 18.5 Underweight
18.5-24.9 Normal
25.0-29.9 Overweight
30 or greater Obesity
40 or greater Morbid obesity

Keep in mind that BMI isn’t always an accurate measurement of body fat content. 

For example, muscle weighs more than fat, so some athletes might be technically considered obese even when they have very little body fat.

It's important for healthcare providers to look at the complete picture of your weight and health before making a diagnosis of obesity.

Symptoms of Obesity

The American Medical Association considers obesity itself a disease that needs to be diagnosed and treated. That's due to symptoms that are common among people with obesity.

Common Adult Obesity Symptoms

Common symptoms of obesity in adults include:

  • Excess body fat, particularly around the waist
  • Shortness of breath
  • Sweating more than usual
  • Snoring
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Skin problems from moisture accumulating in the folds
  • Inability to perform simple physical tasks you could easily perform before weight gain
  • Fatigue, which can range from mild to extreme
  • Pain, especially in the back and joints
  • Psychological issues such as negative self-esteem, depression, shame, and social isolation

Common Childhood Obesity Symptoms

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says the rate of childhood obesity in the U.S. has tripled in the last 50 years. In 2020, nearly 20% of American children and adolescents (ages 2 to 19) were considered obese.

Common childhood obesity symptoms may include:

  • Fatty tissue deposits (may be noticeable in the breast area)
  • Stretch marks on the hips and back
  • Acanthosis nigricans (dark velvety skin around the neck and other areas)
  • Shortness of breath with physical activity
  • Sleep apnea
  • Constipation 
  • Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
  • Low self-esteem
  • Early puberty in biological females/delayed puberty in biological males
  • Orthopedic problems, such as flat feet or dislocated hips

Childhood obesity rates vary between different groups. For example, children in lower-income families are more likely to be obese than those in high-income households.

CHILDHOOD OBESITY RATE
Asian 9%
White 16.6%
Black 24.8%
Hispanic 26.2%
Source: CDC

Symptoms and Causes of Early Obesity

Early-onset obesity can develop in kids due to rare genetic disorders. These disorders involve genes that play a role in regulating appetite and energy expenditure.

These conditions and their effects include:

  • Pro-opiomelanocortin (POMC) deficiency obesity: Key symptoms include extreme hunger (hyperphagia) starting during infancy, early-onset obesity, and hormonal problems.
  • Leptin receptor (LEPR) deficiency obesity: Key symptoms include hyperphagia, severe early-onset obesity, and hypogonadotropic hypogonadism (when the testicles or ovaries produce little or no sex hormones).
  • Bardet-Biedl syndrome (BBS): Key symptoms include early-onset obesity, hyperphagia, vision impairment, having an extra finger or toe (polydactyly), and kidney problems.

Let your child's healthcare provider know if you see any of these symptoms.

Morbid Obesity Symptoms

Morbid obesity is a growing health concern in many developed countries of the world today, particularly in the United States.

You're considered morbidly obese if:

Morbid obesity is also called extreme obesity or class III obesity. It can make it hard to complete everyday activities such as walking and can make it hard to breathe. It also raises your risk of many serious health conditions.

Complications

Obesity can contribute to many serious health disorders. Serious health complications that are more likely to occur with obesity include:

  • High blood pressure (hypertension) or heart disease from the heart working hard to pump blood throughout the body
  • High cholesterol levels (fatty deposits that can block arteries), which can lead to stroke, heart attack, and other complications
  • Type 2 diabetes, which is directly linked to obesity in nearly 50% of cases
  • Some types of cancer, which are linked to obesity in about 40% of cases
  • Asthma, plus worse asthma symptoms and control, which leads to more hospitalizations and medication usage
  • Obese asthma, which is a unique type of asthma found only in some people with obesity
  • Kidney disease due to kidney damage from chronic high blood pressure
  • Osteoarthritis from excess strain on the joints, bones, and muscles
  • Gallbladder disease, which becomes 7% more likely with each step up on the BMI chart
  • Sleep apnea from fat deposits in the neck and tongue that block airways
  • GERD, hiatal hernia, and heartburn from excess weight pushing on the valve that's supposed to keep stomach contents out of the esophagus

What Is a Comorbidity?

A comorbidity is a health condition that occurs at the same time as another health condition. Obesity comorbidities often cause serious long-term disabilities or may even cause death.  People with obesity are known to experience a shortened lifespan because of this.

Summary

Obesity (BMI over 30) can occur in adults and children. It causes symptoms including shortness of breath, fatigue, and joint pain, among others. Obesity can also cause psychological problems including low self-esteem and depression.

Health conditions such as asthma, diabetes, and high blood pressure often go hand-in-hand with obesity. Complications include heart problems, stroke, and kidney disease.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How common is obesity?

    According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), in 2021, 42.4% of the U.S. adult population had obesity. Obesity rates are affected by age, income level, and ethnicity.

  • Can you be overweight and healthy?

    Yes, you can be overweight and healthy. Many people with obesity don't have signs of conditions that are considered obesity-related, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, or insulin resistance.

    However, some research shows that heart disease is still more common in people with obesity, even if they don't have typical risk factors.

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Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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Additional Reading
  • Australian Government, Department of Health: healthdirect. Obesity.