To most people, the term "obesity" means to be very overweight. Health professionals define "overweight" as an excess amount of body weight that includes muscle, bone, fat, and water. "Obesity" specifically refers to an excess amount of body fat. Some people, such as bodybuilders or other athletes with a lot of muscle, can be overweight without being obese.
Most health care providers agree that men with more than 25 percent body fat and women with more than 30 percent body fat are obese.
Measuring the exact amount of a person's body fat is not easy. The most accurate measures are to weigh a person underwater or to use an X-ray test called Dual Energy X-ray Absorptiometry (DEXA). These methods are not practical for the average person, and are done only in research centers with special equipment.
There are simpler methods to estimate body fat. One is to measure the thickness of the layer of fat just under the skin in several parts of the body. Another involves sending a harmless amount of electricity through a person's body. Both methods are used at health clubs and commercial weight loss programs. Results from these methods, however, can be inaccurate if done by an inexperienced person or on someone with severe obesity.
Because measuring a person's body fat is difficult, health care providers often rely on other means to diagnose obesity. Weight-for-height tables, which have been used for decades, usually have a range of acceptable weights for a person of a given height. One problem with these tables is that there are many versions, all with different weight ranges. Another problem is that they do not distinguish between excess fat and muscle. A very muscular person may appear obese, according to the tables, when he or she is not.
In recent years, body mass index (BMI) has become the medical standard used to measure overweight and obesity.
BMI uses a mathematical formula based on a person's height and weight. BMI equals weight in kilograms divided by height in meters squared (BMI = kg/m2). We have provided a table for you to determine your BMI. Alternately, you can use the graphical table given below to determine your BMI.
A BMI of 25 to 29.9 indicates a person is overweight. A person with a BMI of 30 or higher is considered obese.
Like the weight-to-height table, BMI does not show the difference between excess fat and muscle. BMI, however, is closely associated with measures of body fat. It also predicts the development of health problems related to excess weight. For these reasons, BMI is widely used by health care providers.
Find your weight on the bottom of the graph. Go straight up from that point until you come to the line that matches your height. Then look to find your weight group.
Health care providers are concerned not only with how much fat a person has, but also where the fat is located on the body.
Women typically collect fat in their hips and buttocks, giving them a "pear" shape. Men usually build up fat around their bellies, giving them more of an "apple" shape. Of course some men are pear-shaped and some women become apple-shaped, especially after menopause.
If you carry fat mainly around your waist, you are more likely to develop obesity-related health problems. Women with a waist measurement of more than 35 inches or men with a waist measurement of more than 40 inches have a higher health risk because of their fat distribution.
Source: National Institutes of Health
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