Understanding The Growing Epidemic

Many people view their excess weight as an aesthetic issue. But the true burden of excess body weight may be much more serious.

While many of obesity’s complications remain hidden, some of the most common and notable comorbidities can be detected and they include type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, coronary artery disease, cancer and depression.

“Obesity is very inflammatory,” says Michael Russo, M.D., a general and bariatric surgeon with the MemorialCare Center for Obesity at Orange Coast Medical Center. “Excess fat adversely alters hundreds, if not thousands, of hormones that contribute to keeping the body in an ideal state. This is why obesity is connected to so many different disease states.”


Obesity is broadly defined as an excessive accumulation of fat in the body. Body mass index (BMI) is the most widely used measure of obesity, and is based on a patient’s weight and height.

The causes of obesity – defined as a BMI over 30 – vary widely and often there may be several contributing factors. Of course, diet and inactivity are significant, but studies show that genetics also play an important role: researchers have linked more than 30 genes with BMI. Other considerations, such as stress and lack of sleep, or medical conditions, like chronic pain or joint pain, are part of the underlying problems that patients with weight issues battle.

“For example, it’s possible that even pain medications taken to improve mobility, can slow the metabolism,” says Dr. Russo. “Many of our patients are surprised to learn that multiple factors are causing their obesity and that their obesity is, in turn, causing multiple diseases – it’s bidirectional. Once the obesity is corrected, the body’s metabolism and various functions begin to normalize.”


Nearly 35 percent of the U.S. population suffer from obesity. When diet and exercise are not enough, the MemorialCare Center for Obesity offers patients hope with minimally invasive and surgical treatment options. The multidisciplinary team of weight-loss specialists, including surgeons, psychologists, registered dietitians and physical therapists provide support, education and counseling from the very start of the weight-loss journey.

“With obesity comes higher mortality rates. Bariatric surgery can extend life and improve the quality of those years,” says Dr. Russo.

Having performed over 15,000 procedures, the MemorialCare Center for Obesity carries the designation of a Bariatric Surgery Center of Excellence, awarded by the American Society of Metabolic and Bariatric Surgeons to centers with the highest standards and excellence in care.

Each patient has unique weight-loss needs and challenges. Through collaboration, a customized treatment plan helps patients achieve the best possible outcomes for maintaining a healthy weight and long-term success.

“It varies from patient to patient. Surgery may or may not be the best choice. The most important thing is for patients to know their options,” says Dr. Russo.

Gastric Balloon: A 30-minute, non-surgical, incision-free procedure that is both temporary and reversible. This FDA-approved option involves inserting a balloon through the mouth and into the stomach with an endoscope, then inflating it with a saline solution to about the size of an apple. This reduces the size of the stomach, and the amount of food that a patient can consume. Patients eat less, and feel full faster.

Laparoscopic Gastric Band: Only a few, small incisions are involved in this minimally invasive procedure. Typically done on an outpatient basis, a band is placed around the stomach that limits the amount of food that patients can eat at one time.

Gastric Sleeve: By removing a portion of the stomach, its natural capacity is reduced by 70 to 80 percent. Patients intake less food, and less calories.

Gastric Bypass: Considered the gold standard for weight-loss surgery, gastric bypass shrinks the size of the stomach to limit food intake. The surgery also reroutes, or bypasses, part of the digestive system so less food and nutrients are absorbed.

For more information about these procedures or the MemorialCare Center for Obesity at Orange Coast Medical Center, please visit the Center for Obesity, or call 1-877-HEALTHY.