Let’s Get Morbid About Childhood Obesity

Terrible title, right? But posts about morbid obesity are read, and that is statistical reality. Morbid means unhealthy or unwholesome, and the Latin root meant disease.

To be morbidly obese is to be fat to the point where fatness itself is a disease. For any obesity specialist, the bottom line is saving lives. Sure, it’s also about improving quality of life for millions of people. But saving lives is the main thing.

About 5% of children and teens in America qualify as morbidly obese, a term which is being replaced by “severely obese,” but morbid tells the story better because it is associated with death and that’s what we’re talking about here. Twenty-year-olds develop medical conditions that used to be the exclusive property of the middle-aged. People who start out obese in childhood, and remain obese, die 10 to 20 years sooner than their normal-weight age peers.

The situation is so weird, there are even people who gain as much weight as possible on purpose, to satisfy an inner compulsion not merely to eat, but to actually be morbidly obese. This is one good reason for the earliest possible intervention, because the drive to obesity is exponential, like the proverbial snowball rolling down a hill.

The earlier obesity sets in, the more of a foothold it gains in the body. The body’s structures and processes make adjustments to accommodate the fat, and then if weight-loss efforts are made, the body seems to resent the necessity to change back, and it resists. The weight becomes self-perpetuating, and the longer it sticks around, the harder it is to get rid of.

Morbid obesity’s posse

The other diseases that tend to come along with morbid obesity are co-morbidities — diabetes, bone and teeth problems, heart disease, fatty liver disease, metabolic syndrome, high blood pressure, asthma, obstructive sleep apnea, and more.

A co-morbidity may cause obesity, or be caused by it, or both may result from a third condition, or they might originate from different causes altogether. The point is, they feed into and worsen each other.

Obesity might cause a broken bone, then the forced immobility necessary to heal the bone will cause more obesity. In many situations, obese kids are more accident-prone, although that may be compensated for, mathematically, by fewer obese kids putting themselves into accident-prone situations.

This insight comes from UCLA’s Dr. Neal Halfon:

An understanding of the association of obesity with other co-morbidities may provide important information about causal pathways to obesity and more effective ways to prevent it.

Other posts

What Exactly Is Morbid Obesity?” gave some definitions and referred to an authority who called morbid obesity an addiction disorder, a term familiar to readers of Childhood Obesity News. Some define morbid obesity as when the person exceeds ideal body weight by 100 pounds or more, and others have mapped out the Body Mass Index ranges that are acceptable, versus those that are not.

Morbid Obesity in Children and Teens” mentions a study showing that extreme obesity has been increasing much more than moderate obesity.

Childhood Obesity, Co-Morbidities and Surgery” mentions how the options for treatment of severely obese kids are rather limited, which leads to recommendations for bariatric surgery that are perhaps premature. Young people are not in a position to appreciate how such a step will change their lives forever, and how difficult it will be to maintain the necessary lifestyle to make the surgery effective. People can die as a direct result of bariatric surgery complications, but they can also die from complications of other types of surgery undertaken on an obese body.

Morbid Obesity and Motivation” looks at how some individuals have found the strength and determination to remove themselves from a state of morbid obesity. Another relationship between morbid obesity and death is the possibility of self-destruction. No one wants to see children abused or bullied for being overweight, and if even one child commits suicide for that reason, it’s too many.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Childhood obesity linked to more immediate health problems than previously thought,” UCLA.edu, 01/14/13
Image by Eksley

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About Dr. Robert A. Pretlow

Dr. Robert A. Pretlow is a pediatrician and childhood obesity specialist. He has been researching and spreading awareness on the childhood obesity epidemic in the US for more than a decade.
You can contact Dr. Pretlow at:


Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the American Society of Animal Science 2020 Conference
What’s Causing Obesity in Companion Animals and What Can We Do About It

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the World Obesity Federation 2019 Conference:
Food/Eating Addiction and the Displacement Mechanism

Dr. Pretlow’s Multi-Center Clinical Trial Kick-off Speech 2018:
Obesity: Tackling the Root Cause

Dr. Pretlow’s 2017 Workshop on
Treatment of Obesity Using the Addiction Model

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation for
TEC and UNC 2016

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the 2015 Obesity Summit in London, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s invited keynote at the 2014 European Childhood Obesity Group Congress in Salzburg, Austria.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2013 European Congress on Obesity in Liverpool, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2011 International Conference on Childhood Obesity in Lisbon, Portugal.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2010 Uniting Against Childhood Obesity Conference in Houston, TX.

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