Medical Mystery: Morbid Obesity

Manuel Uribe is teaching doctors about brain chemistry and morbid obesity.

ByABC News
January 16, 2007, 5:47 PM

Jan. 17, 2007 — -- Manuel Uribe hasn't left his bed or his apartment in Monterrey, Mexico, in five years.

That's because less than a year ago, at 1,200 pounds, he was considered by many to be the heaviest man in the world.

Currently on a diet -- he's following The Zone -- he now weighs 800 pounds, but still can't stand on his own, and spends his days in a special industrial-size bed.

"I had an obesity problem for many years, a very significant one. I was gaining and gaining weight. I was on every diet you can imagine," Uribe said.

"I used to eat normal, just like all Mexicans do. Beans, rice, flower tortilla, corn tortilla, French fries, hamburgers, subs and pizzas, whatever regular people eat. I worked as a technician, repairing typewriters, electronic calculators and computers. So I worked on a chair. It was a sedentary life," he said.

Uribe is beyond the kind of overweight that comes from fast food and lack of exercise. Doctors call it morbid obesity.

According to the National Institutes of Health, obesity means weighing 20 percent or more than your ideal body weight, and it's a health risk.

Morbid obesity is altogether different. Sometimes called "clinically severe obesity," it means you're 100 pounds or more over ideal body weight, with a body mass index of 40 or higher.

Uribe doesn't gain weight like the rest of us. Brain chemistry, genetic mutation, addiction, psychological pain -- or an unhappy combination of all of them -- makes morbid obesity one of the biggest mysteries of medicine.

Dr. Jaime Gonzalez makes house calls to Uribe once a week. His goal: to help his patient lose 1,000 pounds. Uribe's legs and lower body are massaged daily to improve blood circulation.

"Our main concern currently [are] his lower extremities," Gonzalez said. "There are large volumes because of the amount of fluids retained here."