The incidence of obesity (especially childhood obesity) and its associated health-related problems have reached epidemic proportions in the United States. Recent investigations suggest that the causes of obesity involve a complex interplay of genetic, environmental, psychobehavioral, endocrine, metabolic, cultural, and socioeconomic factors. Several genes and their protein products, such as leptin, may be particularly important in appetite and metabolic control, although the genetics of human obesity appear to involve multiple genes and metabolic pathways that require further elucidation. Severe obesity is frequently associated with significant comorbid medical conditions, including coronary artery disease, hypertension, type II diabetes mellitus, gallstones, nonalcoholic steatohepatitis, pulmonary hypertension, and sleep apnea. Long-term reduction of significant excess weight in these patients may improve or resolve many of these obesity-related health problems, although convincing evidence of long-term benefit is lacking. Available treatments of obesity range from diet, exercise, behavioral modification, and pharmacotherapy to surgery, with varying risks and efficacy. Nonsurgical modalities, although less invasive, achieve only relatively short-term and limited weight loss in most patients. Currently, surgical therapy is the most effective modality in terms of extent and duration of weight reduction in selected patients with acceptable operative risks. The most widely performed surgical procedure, Roux-en-Y gastric bypass, achieves permanent (followed up for more than 14 years) and significant weight loss (more than 50% of excess body weight) in more than 90% of patients.
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