Harvard Heart Letter

Weight-loss surgery: Moving into new dimensions?

Bariatric surgery can dramatically improve type 2 diabetes and other risks for heart disease.

The latest statistics on obesity suggest that this disease remains a huge problem in the United States: nearly one in three American adults meet the criteria for obesity. What's more, about one in 10 women and one in 20 men are considered extremely obese (see "Obesity in the extreme").

People with extreme obesity face a high risk of cardiovascular disease and myriad other health problems, as well as a shortened life span. Most have struggled with excess weight since childhood or early adulthood, and many have undergone multiple, frustrating attempts to shed pounds. For some, weight-loss surgery (also known as bariatric surgery) may be the best—perhaps only—option for lasting weight loss.

Obesity in the extreme

Obesity, which is defined as a body mass index of 30 or higher, is divided into three categories (see www.health.harvard.edu/bmi for a BMI calculator):

BMI

Classification

30.0–34.9

Class 1 obesity

35.0–39.0

Class 2 obesity

40.0 and above

Class 3 obesity (also known as extreme or morbid obesity)

Currently, weight-loss procedures may be appropriate for people with Class 3 obesity and those with Class 2 obesity who also have an obesity-related health problem, such as type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, or sleep apnea.

To continue reading this article, you must login.
  • Research health conditions
  • Check your symptoms
  • Prepare for a doctor's visit or test
  • Find the best treatments and procedures for you
  • Explore options for better nutrition and exercise
Learn more about the many benefits and features of joining Harvard Health Online »