Symptoms of Obesity

In This Article

Obesity is the result of eating more calories than the body can burn or use on a regular basis. The body then stores the excess calories as fat. As the extra calories are consumed each day, the body continues to accumulate extra fat stores, leading to obesity and—in the most severe instances—to morbid obesity. Obesity symptoms have been identified as a precursor to many serious, and sometimes fatal disorders.

Obesity and BMI

Obesity symptoms involve measurable benchmarks, designed to evaluate the percentage of body fat; these calculations are used by the healthcare provider when diagnosing obesity.

The primary method for comparing the level of weight gain to the severity of obesity is a specific measurement system called body mass index or BMI.

Body mass index is a way of measuring fat content in the body, based on the ratio of height versus weight.

The National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute offers a simple to use online tool to check a person’s BMI. The following chart illustrates a person’s weight status according to their BMI.

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

There are different classes of obesity, depending on its severity. A BMI of 35.0-39.9 is considered Class II Obesity, a BMI of 40.0 or higher is considered Class II (Extremely Obese).

Note: BMI isn’t always an accurate measurement of body fat content. For example, some athletes are very muscular and because their weight reflects a high level of muscle mass. This may wrongly 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, weight gain can quickly escalate to a serious medical condition.

Frequent Symptoms for Adults

Symptoms of obesity can negatively impact one’s daily life. For adults, frequent symptoms include:

  • Excess body fat accumulation (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 (from mild to extreme)
  • Pain (commonly in the back and joints)
  • Psychological impact (negative self-esteem, depression, shame, social isolation)

Frequent Symptoms for Children and Adolescents

Over 340 million children and adolescents aged 5 to 19 were deemed overweight or obese in 2016, according to the World Health Organization. In that past 30 years the CDC reports that the rate of childhood obesity has tripled, says Boston Children’s Hospital.

Common symptoms of childhood obesity may include:

  • Eating disorders
  • 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 
  • GI reflux
  • Poor 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 (in the Extremely Obese category) he or she is considered morbidly obese.

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 impair bodily functions such as breathing. It also puts a person at high risk for many other serious health conditions.

Rare Symptoms

Early-onset obesity can develop in kids due to several rare genetic disorders involving genes that play a vital role in regulating appetite and energy expenditure, these include:

  • Pro-opiomelanocortin (POMC) deficiency obesity: Key symptoms include hyperphagia (extreme hunger) starting during infancy, early-onset obesity, and hormonal problems (such as adrenal insufficiency).
  • 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, due to a problem with the pituitary gland or hypothalamus).
  • Bardet-Biedl syndrome (BBS): Key symptoms include early-onset obesity, hyperphagia, vision impairment, polydactyly (having an extra finger or toe), and kidney impairment.

Complications

In addition to primary obesity symptoms, obesity can contribute to many serious health disorders as well, many of which may not be easily identified in the early phase of the disease. 

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 to more surface area of the body
  • High cholesterol levels (fatty deposits that can block arteries)leading 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 Centers for Disease Control 40% of cancer diagnoses are linked to obesity)
  • Asthma
  • Kidney disease can occur from chronic high blood pressure that damages the kidneys
  • Osteoarthritis from excess weight causing 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, as 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. This allows stomach acid to leak into the esophagus.

    Conditions occurring concurrently with obesity, such as cancer or high blood pressure, are referred to as “comorbidities.”

    Obesity comorbidities often cause serious long-term disabilities or may even cause death.  Additionally, people with obesity are known to experience a shortened life-span.

    Perhaps the most encouraging information from the World Health Organization is the fact that obesity is preventable, but first, it must be identified as early in the disease process as possible.  

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