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 are even known to increase a person's 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 being obese. It also describes symptoms of obesity in children and adults, as well as possible complications from the disease.

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 is calculated using your height and body weight.

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

Body Mass Index Chart
BMI Weight Status
Below 18.5 Underweight
18.5-24.9 Normal
25.0-29.9 Overweight
30 or greater Obese
40 or greater Extremely (morbidly) obese

Keep in mind that BMI isn’t always an accurate measurement of body fat content. For example, some athletes might have a higher than average weight simply because they have a high level of muscle mass, and muscle weighs more than fat.

This may technically qualify them for the obesity category, although they have very little body fat.

Frequent Symptoms

Although gaining a few extra pounds may seem insignificant as far as a person’s overall health is concerned, gaining too much weight can sometimes lead to a serious medical condition.

The American Medical Association considers obesity itself a disease.

Common Symptoms in Adults

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 of skin
  • Inability to perform simple physical tasks that one 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 Symptoms in Children and Adolescents

Over 340 million children and teenager ages 5 to 19 were considered overweight or obese in 2016, according to the World Health Organization. In the past few decades, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that the rate of childhood obesity has tripled, as reported by Boston Children’s Hospital.

Common symptoms of childhood obesity may include:

  • Fatty tissue deposits (may be noticeable in the breast area)
  • The appearance of 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 girls/delayed puberty in boys
  • Orthopedic problems, such as flat feet or dislocated hips

Morbid Obesity Symptoms

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

When a person is 100 pounds over optimal body weight with a BMI of 40 or more, they are considered morbidly obese. Morbid obesity is also called extreme obesity or class III obesity.

A person experiencing health conditions related to obesity, such as high blood pressure or diabetes, with a BMI of 35 or more is also considered morbidly obese.

Morbid obesity can cause a person to struggle with everyday activities such as walking and can make it hard to breathe. It also puts a person at high risk for many other serious health conditions.

Recap

Symptoms of obesity in adults include shortness of breath, joint pain, and excess sweating, among others. Children may experience some of the same symptoms as adults, but may also have others, such as early or delayed puberty, constipation, and GERD.

Rare Symptoms

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 (a condition in which the male testes or the female 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.

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
  • Stroke from high cholesterol levels and high blood pressure
  • Type 2 diabetes (nearly 50% of type 2 diabetes cases are directly linked to obesity)
  • Some types of cancer: According to the CDC 40% of cancer diagnoses are linked to obesity.
  • Asthma
  • Kidney disease due to chronic high blood pressure that damages the kidneys
  • Osteoarthritis from excess weight causes an additional strain on the joints, bones, and muscles
  • Gallbladder disease: A 2013 study showed the risk of gallbladder disease increased by 7% with each one-point increment on the BMI scale)
  • Sleep apnea: Fat deposits in the neck and tongue block airways
  • Gastroesophageal reflux, hiatal hernia, and heartburn caused by excess weight pushing on the valve at the top of the stomach, which allows stomach acid to leak into 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 diabetes and high blood pressure often go hand-in-hand with obesity.

Obesity is preventable if it is identified as early in the disease process as possible.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How common is obesity?

    According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the prevalence of obesity among the general U.S. adult population was 42.4% as of 2021. Obesity affects some groups of people more than others.

  • Can you be overweight and healthy?

    It is possible to be overweight and still be healthy because obesity is not just about your BMI—that number does not account for higher muscle mass.

    However, most people who are obese and are considered healthy do not yet show signs of obesity-related conditions, such as high blood pressure or high cholesterol.

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13 Sources
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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