The complex spectrum of forensic issues arising from obesity

Forensic Sci Med Pathol. 2012 Dec;8(4):402-13. doi: 10.1007/s12024-012-9322-5. Epub 2012 Mar 1.


The increasing numbers of obese and morbidly obese individuals in the community are having a direct effect on forensic facilities. In addition to having to install more robust equipment for handling large bodies, the quality of autopsy examinations may be reduced by the physical difficulties that arise in trying to position bodies correctly so that normal examinations can proceed. Accelerated putrefaction is often an added complication. Metabolic disturbances resulting from obesity increase susceptibility to a range of conditions that are associated with sudden and unexpected death, and surgery may have increased complications. The rates of a number of different malignancies, including lymphoma, leukemia, melanoma and multiple myeloma, and carcinomas of the esophagus, stomach, colon, gallbladder, thyroid, prostate, breast and endometrium, are increased. In addition, obese individuals have higher rates of diabetes mellitus, and sepsis. The unexpected collapse of an obese individual should raise the possibility of a wide range of conditions, many of which may be more difficult to demonstrate at autopsy than in an individual with a normal body mass index. Although sudden cardiac death due to cardiomegaly, pulmonary thromboembolism, or ischemic heart disease may be the most probable diagnosis in an unexpected collapse, the range of possible underlying conditions is extensive and often only determinable after full postmortem examination.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Autopsy
  • Cardiovascular Diseases / etiology
  • Diabetes Mellitus / etiology
  • Digestive System Diseases / etiology
  • Female
  • Forensic Pathology
  • Humans
  • Hyperlipidemias / etiology
  • Infections / etiology
  • Length of Stay
  • Metabolic Syndrome / etiology
  • Mortuary Practice
  • Neoplasms / etiology
  • Obesity / complications*
  • Obesity Hypoventilation Syndrome / etiology
  • Phytotherapy / adverse effects
  • Postmortem Changes
  • Postoperative Complications / etiology
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy Complications / etiology
  • Pressure Ulcer / etiology
  • Renal Dialysis / mortality
  • Resuscitation / adverse effects
  • Skin Diseases / etiology
  • Sleep Apnea, Obstructive / etiology
  • Specimen Handling
  • Suicide
  • Tomography, X-Ray Computed
  • Tracheostomy / adverse effects
  • Wounds and Injuries / etiology