Mandisa Died of Class III Obesity: What Black Women Should Know

by Jessica Daniels

Jason Kempin/Getty Images

Grammy Award-winning singer and American Idol alum Mandisa died from complications associated with class III obesity. The 47-year-old was found deceased by friends in her Franklin, Tennessee home on April 18, with her death being classified as natural, according to an autopsy report obtained by People.

Understanding Death Due to Obesity

Obesity itself is rarely listed as the direct cause of death on a death certificate. However, Dr. Katherine Saunders, clinical assistant professor of medicine at Weill Cornell Medicine and co-founder of Intellihealth, explains to Yahoo Life that “weight-related health complications” from this chronic disease are associated with “very significant morbidity and mortality.” The World Health Organization (WHO) reported that a higher-than-optimal body mass index (BMI) led to an estimated five million deaths from noncommunicable diseases, such as cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, cancers, neurological disorders, chronic respiratory diseases, and digestive disorders in 2019.

Dr. Saunders points out that severe health complications from obesity can also include heart attack, heart failure, sudden cardiac death, stroke, and pulmonary embolism. While the specifics of Mandisa’s health at the time of her death are unclear, the autopsy report indicates that these complications were likely related to her weight.

What is Class III Obesity?

Obesity is categorized into three classes based on BMI, according to the Cleveland Clinic:

Class I obesity: BMI of 30–34.9 kg/m²

Class II obesity: BMI of 35–39.9 kg/m²

Class III obesity: BMI of 40 kg/m² or higher

Class III obesity, also known as severe or morbid obesity, is linked to a higher risk of morbidity and mortality compared to Class I and II obesity, Dr. Saunders notes. However, an individual’s risk of developing cardiometabolic diseases such as hypertension, stroke, and diabetes is usually influenced by additional factors, as BMI alone is not a comprehensive indicator of health.

The disease is caused by an imbalance of energy stored and used by the body, influenced by genetics, hormone imbalances, environment, and socioeconomic factors. Research indicates that class III obesity disproportionately affects Black women over the age of 40. Despite these challenges, class III obesity can be managed and treated through lifestyle changes, behavioral and psychological therapy, medications, and surgery.

The Importance of Recognizing Obesity as a Serious Health Concern

“While there is increasing recognition of obesity as a complex, heterogeneous, chronic disease, many people don’t realize how serious obesity is,” Dr. Saunders states. “Obesity is treatable, but it is massively undertreated.” Barriers to effective care include weight bias and inadequate insurance coverage for comprehensive obesity care.

Millicent Gorham, CEO of the Alliance for Women’s Health and Prevention, underscores the need to address obesity without stigma. “Mandisa’s passing is a tragedy,” she tells Yahoo Life. “Unfortunately, there is still a stigma around obesity, and this heartbreaking event highlights the importance of recognizing obesity as a serious chronic disease, with no room for shame.”

If you are suffering from obesity, here are some tips that can help manage and improve your health:

1. Seek Professional Medical Advice

Consult with a healthcare provider to create a personalized plan that addresses your specific needs. This may include regular check-ups to monitor your health status and adjust treatments as necessary.

2. Make Gradual Lifestyle Changes

Small, sustainable changes in diet and physical activity can have a significant impact over time. Focus on incorporating more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins into your diet while reducing intake of processed foods and sugary beverages.

3. Incorporate Physical Activity

Regular physical activity is crucial for managing weight. Aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise, such as brisk walking, per week. Start slowly and gradually increase the intensity and duration of your workouts.

4. Behavioral and Psychological Support

Behavioral therapy and counseling can help address emotional and psychological factors related to obesity. This support can be crucial for developing healthier habits and coping strategies.

5. Consider Medication and Surgical Options

For some individuals, medications or surgical interventions such as bariatric surgery may be necessary to achieve significant weight loss. These options should be discussed with a healthcare provider to determine the best approach for your situation.

6. Build a Support System

Surround yourself with supportive friends, family, and healthcare professionals who can provide encouragement and accountability. Support groups, either in-person or online, can also be beneficial.

7. Educate Yourself

Understanding the complexities of obesity can empower you to make informed decisions about your health. Stay informed about the latest research and treatment options available.

Mandisa’s untimely death underscores the critical need for a greater understanding and acceptance of obesity as a serious health issue. With increased awareness, improved treatment, and reduced stigma, there is hope for better management and outcomes for those living with obesity.