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Copyright 2006 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins

Goroll, Allan H., Mulley, Albert G.


Primary Care Medicine, 5th Edition

Chapter 10
Evaluation of Overweight and Obesity
Overweight and obesity have become major health concerns in modern postindustrial societies,
affecting an estimated 55% of Americans older than the age of 20 years. The personal and social
costs are enormous, approaching $100 billion annually when medical complications, lost wages,
and expenditures for weight reduction efforts are taken into account, not to mention the
accompanying emotional pain, social stigmatization, and discrimination that may ensue.
Excessive weight, through its promotion of the metabolic syndrome, is a major risk factor for
cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes mellitus, dyslipidemia, and hypertension, and it is also
associated with increased risks of stroke, heart failure, and cancer. In addition, obese patients
manifest heightened risks of impaired pulmonary function (including sleep apnea), osteoarthritis,
gallbladder disease, and surgical complications.
The tasks for the primary physician in the evaluation of patients with excess weight include not
only an attempt to identify etiologic factors, but also a careful assessment of weight status and fat
distribution as risk factors for major disease. This chapter focuses on the diagnostic evaluation;
see Chapter 233 for the approach to treatment.
PATHOPHYSIOLOGY AND CLINICAL PRESENTATION
(1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10,11,12,13,14,15)
Definitions
The preferred definitions of overweight and obesity are based on body mass index (BMI)
determinations, which approximate total body fat content and correlate with disease risk (Table
10.1). Overweight is defined as a BMI of 25 to 29.9 kg/m2. Obesity is defined as a BMI greater
than 30 kg/m2, and morbid obesity by a BMI greater than 40 kg/m2 (Table 10.1).
Table 10.1. Definition and Classification of Excess Weight
CLASS BMI (KG/M2) WAIST CIRCUMFERENCEa RELATIVE RISKb
Normal 18.524.9 Normal Normal
Increased Increased
Overweight 25.029.9 Normal Increased
Increased High
Obese 30.034.9 Normal High
Increased Very High
35.039.9 Normal Very high
Increased Very high
Obese, morbid 40.0+ All are increased Extremely high
BMI, body mass index.
a
Increased, >102 cm (40 in.) in men, >88 cm (35 in. in women).
b
For diabetes type 2, hypertension, coronary artery disease.
Adapted from Expert Panel on the Identification, Evaluation, and Treatment of Overweight and
Obesity in Adults. Executive summary of the clinical guidelines on the identification, evaluation,
and treatment of overweight and obesity in adults. Arch Intern Med 1998;158:1855, with
permission.
Physiology
Caloric intake and energy expenditure are linked through hypothalamic regulation of appetite
and metabolism. The hypothalamus integrates a complex and redundant set of afferent signals,
including leptin, released from adipose tissue; norepinephrine, from the autonomic nervous
system; epinephrine, insulin, androgens, glucocorticoids, progesterone, and estrogens, from
endocrine glands; peptide YY, glucagon, cholecystakinin, bombesin peptides, neurotensin,
growth hormonereleasing hormone, somatostatin, and glucose, from the gastrointestinal tract;
and dopamine, gamma-amino butyric acid, ghlanin, opioids, growth hormonereleasing factor,
somatostatin, and serotonin, from the central nervous system. The efferent output from the
hypothalamus controls energy expenditure and appetite by the release of alpha-melanocyte-
stimulating hormone (alpha-MSH), norepinephrine, serotonin, neuropeptide Y, glucagon-like
peptide I, thyrotropic hormone, and corticotropin-releasing hormone, which act on the autonomic
nervous system and the thyroid gland. Increasingly appreciated as a factor in appetite control is
the role of alpha-MSH on the melanocortin 4 receptor (MC4R), which, when stimulated,
suppresses appetite.
Pathophysiology
Obesity is often the consequence of physical inactivity, especially in persons with an underlying
disturbance in metabolism, appetite control, or dietary composition. In most instances, the
etiology is multifactorial, although one factor may predominate. Susceptibility is influenced by
genetic determinants that were once advantageous in regard to evolution, such as those that
reduce energy expenditure or encourage the intake of energy-rich foods. However, such inherited
traits can be counterproductive to good health in postindustrial societies, in which physical
demands are greatly reduced and high-calorie food is plentiful and inexpensive.
Physical Inactivity
Physical inactivity emerges as a leading cause of obesity in modern society, underscored by the
increasing prevalence of obesity despite a decline in average daily caloric intake. When daily life
makes few physical demands, caloric needs drop precipitously, which leads to an epidemic of
excess weight, even among those without major genetic susceptibility to weight gain. Some
genetic variability in the propensity for exercise has been described, which may contribute to
inactivity in some.
Metabolic Factors
Metabolic factors are important, genetically determined contributors to excessive weight and
include resting energy expenditure, thermic effect of food, and exercise-induced energy
expenditure. Among these, a reduction in energy utilization with exercise correlates the most
strongly with risk for weight gain. Ninefold to 30-fold variations have been observed. Because
exercise-induced energy expenditure accounts for about 30% of total energy demand, any genetic
propensity for reduced energy expenditure with exertion could substantially increase the risk for
obesity.
Dietary Composition
Dietary composition actually plays a much smaller role than might be expected. In most persons,
changing the percentages of dietary fat, protein, and carbohydrate without changing the number
of calories consumed has little or no influence on the development of obesity. Diets high in fat
contribute to obesity mostly because they are rich in calories, not because they are rich in fat.
Despite claims to the contrary by those promoting weight-loss diets, there is no evidence that
dietary composition alone is a major determinant of obesity for the vast majority of persons.
Almost all weight loss diets work by restricting total calories (see Chapter 233). The timing of
food intake may contribute modestly to obesity; eating once daily, particularly before going to
bed, predisposes to the accumulation of adipose tissue in some persons.
Appetite Disturbances
Appetite disturbances have long been suspected as a cause of obesity. Many obese individuals
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appear to eat without satiety. This has led to intensive study of appetite regulation and its
disruption. In some, there appears to be resistance to normal appetite controls, such as the
appetite suppressant leptin, serum levels of which actually increase in obese subjects. In some
obese persons, the postprandial production of appetite suppressing gut hormone fragment
polypeptide YY (PYY) is reduced compared with normal controls. In others, there is genetic
alteration of the MC4R (see later discussion). In some animals, the effects of appetite
suppressants can be overcome by providing easy access to palatable, energy-rich foods.
Genetic Factors
Genetic factors, as noted earlier, play a substantial role by influencing energy utilization,
appetite, food preferences, and even propensity for physical activity. The importance of genetic
factors is underscored by findings from studies of twins, families, and adoptees, which reveal a
strong relation between weight class of adoptees and their biologic parents, but none between
adoptees and their adopted parents. Parental obesity doubles the risk for adult obesity in obese
and nonobese children younger than the age of 10 years. Obese children younger than the age of
3 years who have an obese parent have a very high risk for adult obesity, but they experience no
increase in risk if neither parent is obese. The alpha-MSH/MC4R axis appears important in some
cases of morbid obesity. Patients with a mutation in the MC4R gene manifest hyperphagia, binge
eating, and morbid obesity. Genetic factors are estimated to account for nearly 50% of the risk of
becoming overweight, and even more for becoming obese.
Developmental and Environmental Factors
Developmental and environmental factors, manifested by parental influences and childhood
environment, contribute to the development of adult obesity. As the age of the child increases,
the influence of environment increases. At ages greater than 10 years, heredity becomes a less-
dominant determinant of adult obesity, and environment increases in importance. Persons
growing up in the current era of plentiful, inexpensive high-calorie fast food are at greater risk of
obesity than are cohorts from earlier eras. Teenagers, especially, consume large amounts of such
food, with potentially serious long-term consequences. Natural history studies find a strong
relation between increased weight during the teenage and young adult years, and risk of
becoming frankly obese later in life. Those who become obese tend to remain obese their entire
lives.
Psychological and Behavioral Factors
Psychological and behavioral factors have long been thought to be important; however, there is
no known psychological explanation for why reactive hyperphagia develops in some persons as a
response to emotional stress, whereas anorexia is the reaction of others. Considerable research
has been unable to determine any particular personality organization or cluster of psychological
defense mechanisms clearly linked to obesity. Nonetheless, psychological problems frequently
contribute to the onset and perpetuation of obesity-inducing behavioral changes. For example,
some individuals characteristically overeat in response to stress, loss, or frustration. Those with
the night-eating syndrome, characterized by insomnia, massive late-evening refrigerator raids,
and morning anorexia, also experience particular emotional distress when they try to reform their
eating behaviors. Usually, coinciding social stresses are present as well. The appetite disturbance
associated with major depression may lead to either an increase or a decrease in weight.
Social Factors
Social factors are key determinants of the frequency and nature of feasts, timing of meals, role
and meaning of food, types of foods consumed, and norms of appearance. In U.S. society, excess
weight occurs far more frequently among minorities and the socioeconomically disadvantaged
than among others. Young African American and Hispanic women are 2.1 and 1.5 times,
respectively, more likely to become obese than are young white women. Whether this difference
represents dietary preference, socially motivated behavior, or interactional factors is unclear. In
certain occupations, such as wrestling, obesity is a help, not a hindrance. In former times,
corpulence was a sign of prosperity and was cultivated by bankers and businessmen.
Clinical Presentation
Most cases of overweight and obesity occur independent of an underlying medical condition,
although they may exacerbate or lead to illness. Onset of exogenous obesity is often evident by
early adulthood and tends to persist. Those who are overweight by their early 20s are at
considerable risk of developing frank
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obesity by their late 30s. Persons with an underlying hereditary etiology usually manifest obesity
before age 10 years.
In 5% to 10% of adult cases, an underlying medical condition or medication that affects energy
expenditure, fuel utilization, appetite, or physical activity may be responsible. Often, the
mechanism is an effect on one of the substances involved in regulating energy intake or
expenditure (see earlier discussion).
Pharmacologic Agents
Pharmacologic agents prescribed for clinical conditions other than obesity may cause weight
gain. Beta-blockers and central sympatholytics (e.g., clonidine) can decrease metabolic rate and
energy expenditure. Glucocorticosteroids cause hypertrophic obesity in a characteristic truncal
pattern. Antidepressants, such as the tricyclics and selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, and
some antihistamines (e.g., cyproheptadine) act as appetite stimulants. Weight gain is also
common with oral contraceptive use.
Endocrine Disturbances
Endocrine disturbances are more often the result, rather than the cause, of excess weight.
However, hypothyroidism (see Chapter 104) has been found to account for up to 5% of cases in
some series. Cushing's syndrome is a rare cause and is usually accompanied by characteristic
features of truncal obesity and peripheral muscle wasting. SteinLeventhal syndrome
polycystic ovaries, absent menses, moderate hirsutism, and hyperinsulinism (see Chapter 112)
often goes unrecognized as an endocrinologic form of obesity; the precise mechanism of the
obesity is unknown. Eunuchism may also be associated with obesity. Of great concern is the
marked increase in frequency of insulin resistance and its attendant metabolic syndrome,
characterized by hyperinsulinism, elevated triglycerides, and low high-density-lipoprotein (HDL)
cholesterol, all important risk factors for diabetes, hypertension, and cardiovascular disease.
Serum insulin and triglyceride levels are elevated, and HDL cholesterol is reduced.
Neurologic Causes
Neurologic causes of obesity are usually not cryptic; they mostly result from hypothalamic
injury, as occurs with craniopharyngiomas, encephalitis, or trauma. Visual field defects or
headaches are usually present. Two rare types of neurologic disease without obvious central
nervous system symptoms have been described. KleineLevin syndrome consists of periodic
hyperphagia and hypersomnia. A second syndrome is characterized by preoccupation with food
and accompanying electroencephalographic abnormalities that respond to phenytoin.
Mental Illness
Mental illness may be heralded by weight gain. The appetite disturbance of major depression is
one of the cardinal manifestations of the condition and may be a presenting complaint (see
Chapter 227).
DIFFERENTIAL DIAGNOSIS (16)
The causes of obesity can be primary or secondary, with the latter being medical conditions that
result in obesity. Some forms of secondary weight gain are a consequence of salt retention and
fluid overload rather than an increase in fat cell mass. Among the important causes of sodium
retention are congestive heart failure, severe hepatocellular disease, and renal failure (see
Chapters 32, 71, and 142). Primary forms of obesity can be classified by their underlying
pathophysiology. The vast majority of cases are primary in nature. An etiologic/pathophysiologic
diagnosis is essential to the design of an effective management program (Table 10.2).
Table 10.2. Important Causes of Obesity
Primary
Psychological factors
Depression
Anxiety
Frustration
Biologic factors
Reduced thermogenesis
Increased fat cell mass
Autonomic dysfunction
Altered hypothalamic set point
Single large daily meal taken before bedtime
Decreased energy expenditure
Drugs (e.g., tricyclic antidepressants, oral contraceptives, corticosteroids, phenothiazines)
Genetic influences
Familial obesity
Social and occupational factors
Lower socioeconomic class
Social/occupational situation
Secondary
Endocrine disease
Hypothyroidism
Stein-Leventhal syndrome
Cushing's syndrome
Neurologic disease
Hypothalamic injury (e.g., trauma, encephalitis, craniopharyngioma)
WORKUP (16,17,18,19)
Particular attention should be paid to detection and early intervention in persons at greatest risk
for becoming obese, namely overweight teenagers and young adults, especially women from
minority groups.
A principal objective of the overweight/obesity evaluation is to determine how much risk the
weight problem confers. The risk assessment begins with an estimate of the amount and
distribution of fat, followed by a consideration of other risk factors and underlying conditions
that add to morbidity and mortality risks; it concludes with estimates of relative and absolute
risk. Additional components of the workup pertinent to management include elucidation of the
underlying mechanism(s) responsible for the patient's weight problem, detection of any
underlying illnesses presenting as weight excess, and assessment of the patient's motivation to
lose weight.
Weight Assessment
To establish whether an individual has a weight problem that poses a health risk, an estimation of
the amount and distribution of fat is required. Both are independent determinants of disease risk.
Fat distribution is particularly important, even among persons who are not obese.
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Measurement of Body Fat


This is best accomplished by calculating the BMI. The BMI determination assumes that weight is
measured with shoes and heavy clothing removed. If weight is obtained with shoes and all
clothing on, then 5 lb should be subtracted for men and 3 lb for women. The BMI is calculated
by taking the weight in kilograms and dividing it by the square of the height in meters (or by
multiplying by 703 the weight in pounds divided by the square of the height in inches). This ratio
of weight to height actually calculates total body mass rather than fat mass, but it correlates
highly with the amount of body fat and its associated health risks except in very muscular
individuals, who might be falsely labeled as overweight with use of the BMI. The BMI range of
20 to 24.9 is classified as normal because no actuarial increase in disease mortality is noted
within it. Mortality begins to increase as the BMI exceeds 25, and it is here that health
professionals should be concerned. Most expert consensus panels recommend that health
professionals adopt the BMI as the preferred measure for evaluating weight status because it
provides the best estimate of disease risk (Fig. 10-1 and Table 10.1).
Figure 10-1. Nomogram for body mass index (kg/m2). Weights and heights are without clothing.
With clothes, add 5 lb (2.3 kg) for men and 3 lb (1.4 kg) for women. Add 1 in. (2.5 cm) in height
for shoes. (From New weight standards for men and women. J Am Diet Assoc 1985;85:1119,
with permission. Based on data from Stat Bull Metropolitan Life Insurance Company
1959;40:1.)
Height and Weight Tables
Height and weight tables have the advantage of simplicity. However, there are serious limitations
to their use. Standard charts typically list ideal or desired weights based on actuarial data, yet it
is not weight per se that minimizes morbidity or the incidence of disease. The person having a
significant percentage of lean body mass, such as a physical laborer, may well exceed ideal
body weight, yet not be obese. On the other hand, some individuals may be within the ideal
range but have non-insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus, hypertension, or other conditions that
would benefit from weight reduction. The Metropolitan Life Insurance Company has published
revised reference weights in an attempt to isolate the effect of weight alone on longevity;
individuals with major diseases, such as cancer, diabetes, or heart disease, were omitted from the
study (Table 10.3). Life tables, based only on mortality, ignore possible nonfatal risks associated
with increased weight.
Table 10.3. Optimal Weights,a in Pounds, for Adults Ages 25 Years and Older (Light
Clothing)
HEIGHT (IN SHOES) SMALL FRAME MEDIUM FRAME LARGE FRAME
Men
5 ft 2 in. 112120 118129 126141
53 115123 121133 129144
54 118126 124136 132148
55 121129 127139 135152
56 124133 130143 138156
57 128137 134147 142161
58 132141 138152 147166
59 136145 142156 151170
5 10 140150 146160 155174
5 11 144154 150165 159179
60 148158 154170 164184
61 152162 158175 168189
62 156167 162180 173194
63 160171 167185 178199
64 164175 172190 182204
Women
4 10 9298 96107 104119
4 11 94101 98110 106122
50 96104 101113 109125
51 99107 104116 112128
52 102110 107119 115131
53 105113 110122 118134
54 108116 113126 121138
55 111119 116130 125142
56 114123 120135 129146
57 118127 124139 133150
58 122131 128143 137154
59 126135 132147 141158
5 10 130140 136151 145163
5 11 134144 140155 149168
60 138148 144159 153173
a
Weights associated with the lowest mortality rates (derived from actuarial data, Metropolitan
Life Insurance Company).
Height and Weight Formulas
Height and weight formulas are sometimes used to determine ideal body weight and estimate the
degree of obesity, but they provide only the crudest of estimates and should not be used to set
goals for weight reduction. They are provided here only because they are sometimes referred to.
(Appropriate weight goals for patients can be determined only by a thorough analysis of their
medical history and physical findings, supplemented by appropriate laboratory evaluation.)
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Female weight: Allow 100 lb for first 5 ft of height plus 5 lb for each additional inch.

Male weight: Allow 106 lb for first 5 ft of height plus 6 lb for each additional inch.

The measurement of skinfold thickness is used by some to quantify adiposity. Calipers are used
to measure skinfold thickness in the triceps and subscapular regions. However, reliability can be
a problem when skinfold measurements are used because body fat increases with age, grossly
obese patients are difficult to measure, and results vary among providers using the calipers.
Bioelectric Impedance Analysis
Bioelectric impedance analysis is sometimes used to measure body fat. Electrodes are applied to
one arm and leg, and the impedance is measured. Impedance is proportional to the aqueous
composition of the body. Formulas are used to estimate the percentage of fat in the body.
Although accurate, this method is expensive and not readily available.
The old-fashioned eyeball test remains a mainstay of assessment: If a person looks fat, he or she
is likely to be fat. However, quantification and correlation with risk are crude with this
commonsense method.
Measurement of Fat Distribution
The other independent determinant of health risk associated with excess weight is fat
distribution, which can be quantified by measuring waist circumference. The circumference of
the waist is obtained at the narrowest area above the umbilicus. Measurements in excess of
gender-specific cutoffs (>102 cm, or 40 in., in men and >88 cm, or 35 in., in women) confer an
increased relative risk of disease morbidity and mortality (see Table 10.3). The effect of fat
distribution on risk is so strong that waist circumference is important even in persons who are not
technically overweight. However, in morbidly obese patients, waist circumference is always
exceeded, and the measurement confers no additional risk.
The ratio of waist or abdominal circumference to hip or gluteal circumference provides an even
more precise quantitative index of regional fat distribution. The hip circumference is measured at
the maximal gluteal protrusion. Individuals with excess upper body fat (android obesity) are at
higher risk for diabetes, atherosclerosis, and stroke than are those who have more adipose tissue
in the hips, buttocks, and thighs (gynecoid obesity). In quantitative terms, individuals with waist-
to-hip ratios greater than 0.8 for women and 1.0 for men have an increased risk for coronary
disease.
Estimation of Disease Risk
One begins with determinations of total body fat and fat distribution, represented respectively by
BMI and waist circumference. These parameters correlate well with relative risk, especially
among persons younger than the age of 65 years (see Table 10.3). Relative risk from obesity is
greatest among younger persons and declines somewhat with advancing age.
Determination of the absolute risk associated with obesity requires checking for underlying
coronary heart disease (see Chapter 20), type 2 diabetes mellitus (see Chapter 93), noncoronary
atherosclerotic disease (see Chapters 23 and 171), hypertension (see Chapter 19), and sleep
apnea (see Chapter 46), in addition to the end-organ injuries that may result from them (see
Chapters 26, 30, 35, 46, and 102). The cardiovascular risk assessment is enhanced by screening
for principal risk factors such as hyperlipidemia (see Chapter 15), hypertension (see Chapter 14),
smoking (see Chapter 54), and premature coronary disease in first-degree relatives. Calculations
of absolute risk are possible from a consideration of these factors (see Chapters 26 and 27).
Searches for osteoarthritis (see Chapter 146), cholelithiasis (see Chapter 69), and stress
incontinence also help predict risk of weight-related consequences.
Assessment of Etiology and Consequences
As important as risk assessment is, etiologic factors and health consequences deserve attention
because they are relevant to the approach to management.
History
An extensive weight history should include age of onset of obesity, weight status of parents and
siblings, and any identifiable circumstances associated with the onset of obesity. Although
dietary composition per se is not a risk factor for obesity, dietary composition and quantity need
to be ascertained to determine total caloric intake. A high-fat diet is likely to provide excessive
calories. Because physical inactivity is a major precipitant of excess weight, the patient's daily
activities should be elucidated in detail to estimate daily energy requirements. Proclivity toward
exercise should also be ascertained. A careful review of ongoing psychological and situational
stresses is essential and should include screening for depression (see Chapter 227). Any recent
attempts at smoking cessation should be reviewed for effect on weight. The social and cultural
dimensions of the history should be explored for their possible contribution to weight gain.
Even in a patient without obvious medical pathology, a workup that screens for underlying
endocrinologic and neurologic diseases is essential, as is a check for drug-induced causes. The
history requires a thorough neuroendocrine review of symptoms: fatigue, unexplained weight
gain, cold intolerance, hoarseness, change in skin and hair texture, amenorrhea, hirsutism, easy
bruising, weakness, visual disturbances, and headache. Medications are reviewed for agents that
may stimulate appetite or affect metabolism, such as antidepressants, oral contraceptives,
corticosteroids, phenothiazines, antithyroid medications, -blockers, and insulin.
A review of systems for the consequences of obesity should include inquiry into chest pain,
shortness of breath, polyuria, polydipsia, impotence, numbness, limb pain or coldness, transient
neurologic deficits, daytime sleepiness, apneic periods at night, and pain in weight-bearing
joints.
The Physical Examination
The physical examination includes a check for such etiologic clues as moon facies, hirsutism, dry
and thickened skin, coarse hair, truncal obesity, pigmented striae, goiter, adnexal masses, lack of
secondary sex characteristics, delayed relaxation of ankle jerks, and visual field deficits. The
physical examination should include a search for the consequences of obesity, including blood
pressure elevation, diabetic retinopathic changes, carotid bruits, obstruction of soft tissues in the
upper airway, cor pulmonale, rales, cardiac enlargement,
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degenerative changes in the hips and knees, and signs of peripheral arterial insufficiency and
peripheral neuropathy.
Laboratory Testing
Laboratory testing includes two components: the diagnosis of an underlying medical etiology
and the detection of metabolic consequences. A strategy of routinely testing for all possible
medical causes in the absence of suggestive clinical findings adds to expenses and increases the
risk of generating a high percentage of false-positive results (see Chapter 2). Nonetheless, some
clinicians routinely screen for hypothyroidism with a thyrotropin determination because the test
is sensitive, the condition has a relatively high frequency, and the clinical presentation of
hypothyroidism can be very subtle (see Chapter 104).
The laboratory evaluation is most productive when directed at causes suggested by the history
and the physical examination. For example, the obese patient suspected of having Cushing's
syndrome because of truncal obesity, peripheral wasting, and pigmented striae is a reasonable
candidate for an overnight 1-mg dexamethasone suppression test. If headaches accompanied by a
visual field disturbance are present, then computed tomography of the sella turcica is needed to
check for the possibility of a pituitary tumor (see Chapter 100). Measures of energy expenditure,
thermogenesis, autonomic function, fat cell count, and metabolic set-point are relegated to the
research laboratory. Similarly, genetic testing and assays for such appetite suppressant factors as
leptins, alpha-MSH, MC4R, and PYY remain confined to the study setting but may be useful in
the future.
Testing for insulin resistance and its metabolic consequences is essential to identifying those
persons at increased cardiovascular risk. About half of obese persons will have evidence of
insulin resistance. Fasting glucose and lipid profile (see Chapter 15) are essential determinations.
Serum insulin levels provide a more direct measurement of hyperinsulinism, but assays are not
well standardized. The plasma triglyceride level (>130 mg/dL) and triglyceride: high-density-
lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol ratio (>3.0) provide the best approximation of insulin levels and
correlate with cardiovascular risk, as does the better established total cholesterol:HDL
cholesterol ratio (<4.5). These results help detect metabolic syndrome and identify those persons
at greatest cardiovascular risk and who are likely to benefit most from weight reduction.
Patients bothered by daytime sleepiness and a history of excessive snoring and disturbed sleep
resulting from irregular breathing should be considered for a formal sleep study (see Chapter 46).
INDICATIONS FOR REFERRAL
Patients who are morbidly obese and demonstrate such adverse sequelae as marked respiratory
compromise, disabling arthritis, or symptomatic coronary disease require consultation for
consideration of a very low calorie diet under the supervision of persons experienced in its
implementation (see Chapter 233). Referral for consideration of surgical approaches to treatment
may also be indicated in such persons. Obstructive sleep apnea in patients with mild-to-moderate
obesity may not require such extreme measures, but pulmonary consultation in conjunction with
a weight-loss program is indicated (see Chapter 46).
PATIENT EDUCATION
Most patients come for evaluation out of concern for an underlying medical condition or a
genetic determinant. The vast majority have no such cause and need to know that inactivity and
caloric excess are the principal reasons for their weight gain. Although they may have genetically
determined risk factors, such as a proclivity for high-fat food, reduced exercise-related energy
expenditure, or a defect in appetite suppression, they will benefit when the physician
reemphasizes the overwhelming importance of exercise and an active lifestyle to weight control,
and modest restriction in caloric intake (see Chapter 233). The occasional patient whose obesity
is driven predominantly by heredity (both parents obese, onset before age 3 years) appreciates
knowing that the weight problem is not a consequence of defective character. For the vast
majority, the education process begins by drawing attention away from diets, medical conditions,
and metabolism problems and to the importance of exercise. The goals are to provide the
patient with an estimate of the disease risk posed by the excessive weight and an assessment of
the factors contributing to it.
RECOMMENDATIONS

Make overweight detection and early intervention an important goal of the health
maintenance/prevention agenda for teenagers and young adults. Focus efforts on those at
greatest risk for becoming obese, namely overweight teenagers and young adult women
from minority groups.

Begin the weight assessment by determining the amount of body fat and fat distribution,
which independently correlate with the relative risk associated with excess weight.

Estimate body fat content by calculating the BMI (body weight in kilograms divided by
the square of the height in meters).

Determine fat distribution by measuring the waist circumference at the narrowest area
above the umbilicus.

Estimate the relative risk of cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and hypertension
from these determinations.

Search for major cardiovascular risk factors and for evidence of end-organ damage to
determine the absolute risk of cardiovascular morbidity and mortality.

Check the history and the physical examination for etiologic factors, ranging from
familial propensity and early age of onset to dietary excess, physical inactivity, and
underlying medical and psychological conditions.

Restrict laboratory testing to investigating etiologic hypotheses suggested by the history


and the physical examination, and to assessing cardiovascular risk associated with
metabolic syndrome; include measurement of fasting triglycerides and HDL cholesterol.

Provide the patient with an assessment of the factors contributing to excessive weight and
with an estimate of disease risk posed by the obesity so that a customized management
plan can be formulated (see Chapter 233).

A. H. G.
ANNOTATED BIBLIOGRAPHY
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2. Peeters A, Barendregt JJ, Willendens F, et al. Obesity in adulthood and its consequences for
life expectancy: a life table analysis. Ann Intern Med 2003;138:24. (A prospective cohort study
from the Framingham Study; finds large decreases in life expectancy and increases in early
mortality.)
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cancer in a prospectively studied cohort of U.S. adults. N Engl J Med 2003;348:1625. (Large
prospective population study; increased weight was associated with an increase in death from all
cancers.)
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cardiovascular risk: the Framingham experience. Arch Intern Med 2002;162:1867. (Prospective
cohort study from the Framingham Study; cardiovascular risk was strongly associated with
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