Relationship Between Obesity and Surgery

Could You Be Denied Surgery Because of Your Weight?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 69 percent of U.S. adults are overweight, and 36 percent of those people are obese. That’s nearly three-fourths of our population.

Obesity is a major contributing factor to many health issues, from diabetes to heart disease to sleep apnea to back and joint problems, said Krista Solarek, physician assistant at ThedaCare Orthopedic Care in Berlin.

The measure most commonly used to determine one’s weight range is Body Mass Index (BMI). That number is based on the ratio of one’s height to weight. (Search online for BMI Charts to determine your BMI.) The National Institutes of Health (NIH) lists the following BMI categories:

  • Under 18.5 – Underweight
  • 18.5-24.9 – Normal
  • 25-29.9 – Overweight
  • 30 or higher – Obese

The NIH further breaks down the categories of obesity as follows:

  • Class I – 30 – 34.9 – Obese
  • Class II – 35-39.9 – Morbidly obese
  • Class III – 40 and above – Super morbidly obese

Being obese could cause you to be denied as a candidate for surgery. “More and more hospitals are setting BMI limits as to what patients they can safely operate on,” Solarek said. “When it comes to elective surgeries, such as joint replacements, knee arthroscopies, carpal tunnel or rotator cuff repairs, being overweight not only makes the surgery more difficult to perform, but also it increases the risk of infection and failure of hardware.”

A recent European study showed that obese patients have a five times increased risk of developing an infection at the surgery site. Many obese people suffer from diabetes, and people with diabetes or high levels of inflammation in their bodies are more likely to develop post-surgery infections.

An overweight/obese patient also can cause the surgical team to need special equipment to successfully perform the operation—from a different operating table to specials tools. All of these factors raise the cost of the procedure to both the hospital and the patient.

If you are overweight/obese and know that you will need surgery in the future, it’s a good idea to have an open, honest discussion with your physician and/or surgeon about your weight and how it will affect your procedure and your recovery. “If you’re facing surgery, it’s important to get your body into the best condition possible,” said Solarek. “The better condition you’re in, the faster your body will heal. Our bodies are made to heal themselves, and they will do so if we are in good condition.”

For more than 100 years, ThedaCare® has been committed to finding a better way to deliver serious and complex healthcare to patients throughout Northeast Wisconsin. The organization serves over 200,000 patients annually and employs more than 6,700 healthcare professionals throughout the region. ThedaCare has seven hospitals located in Appleton, Neenah, Berlin, Waupaca, Shawano, New London and Wild Rose, as well as 31 clinics in nine counties and the ThedaCare Regional Cancer Center in Appleton. ThedaCare is the first in Wisconsin to be a Mayo Clinic Care Network Member, giving our specialists the ability to consult with Mayo Clinic experts on a patient’s care. ThedaCare is a non-profit healthcare organization with a level II trauma center, comprehensive cancer treatment, stroke and cardiac programs as well as a foundation dedicated to community service.  For more information, visit or follow ThedaCare on Facebook and Twitter.