The terms ‘obese’ and ‘overweight’ are used interchangeably, but it is important to understand the difference. The definition of obesity refers to having a significant amount of body fat above the ideal amount, whereas being overweight refers to weighing too much. This weight can be caused by muscle, bone, fat or body water. Both obesity and being overweight can result in serious health risks. Body mass index, or BMI, is used to measure a person’s weight-for- height ratio to determine if they are obese or not. BMI takes your weight in kilograms and divides by the square of your height in meters (kg/m2). The World Health Organization (WHO) provides the following BMI guideline assessments for adults and children:


  • Overweight is a BMI greater than or equal to 25.
  • Obesity is a BMI greater than or equal to 30.

Children Under five Years of Age

  • Overweight is a weight-for- height ratio greater than two standard deviations above the WHO child growth standards median.
  • Obesity is a weight-for- height ratio greater than three standard deviations above the WHO child growth standards median.

Childhood Obesity

More than 340 million children and adolescents worldwide aged five to 19 were overweight or obese in 2016. Prevalence of overweight children is particularly high among certain populations such as Hispanic, African American and Mexican Americans. Obese children are not only more likely to become obese adults, but suffer from weight-related illnesses such as hypertension (high blood pressure), diabetes and some cancers. Factors contributing to childhood obesity include poor food choices, poor eating patterns, formula feeding, not enough physical activity, obese parent and demographics. If you think your child is at risk of becoming overweight or obese, talk to your doctor or pediatrician about developing a plan of action.

Children Aged Between Five and Nineteen Years

  • Overweight is BMI-for- age greater than one standard deviation above the WHO growth reference median.
  • Obesity is greater than two standard deviations above the WHO growth reference median.

Remember, these are guidelines. Consult your doctor to determine the ideal weight for your height, age and body type. If your weight goes beyond a BMI of 40 or more (100 pounds, or 45.3kg, over ideal body weight), you could be classified as morbidly obese. Morbid obesity can interrupt basic functions such as walking or breathing and can raise the risk of serious illness.

Waist Circumference

A pre-determiner for the risk of obesity is waist circumference. This is the measurement to assess the amount of abdominal fat. If you have abdominal fat disproportionate to total body fat it could
be a predictor risk factor for obesity. Men with a waist exceeding 40 inches (101.6cm) and women with a waist exceeding 35 inches (90cm) are considered to be at a higher risk of obesity.

Quick Statistics

  • More than 1.9 billion adults worldwide aged 18 years and older were overweight in 2016, and of these 650 million were obese.
  • About 13 per cent of the world’s population was obese in 2016.
  • An estimated 41 million children under age five were overweight or obese in 2016.
  • Worldwide obesity nearly tripled from 1975 to 2016.

15 Most Obese Countries Ranked (2016)

  1. Nauru
  2. Cook Islands
  3. Palau
  4. Marshall Islands
  5. Tuvalu
  6. Niue
  7. Tonga
  8. Samoa
  9. Kiribati
  10. Kuwait
  11. United States
  12. Jordan
  13. Saudi Arabia
  14. Qatar.

Obesity in America

  • Nearly 70 per cent of American adults are either overweight or obese.
  • Almost 13 million US children aged two to 19 are obese.
  • Non-Hispanic blacks have the highest age-adjusted rates of obesity in the US.

Obesity rates in the US have risen steadily since 1960. This is a chronic condition that, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), leads to an estimated 112,000 obesity– related deaths a year in the US. Healthcare costs associated with obesity among American adults amounts to about $190 billion a year.

Obesity-Related Illnesses

Obesity and morbid obesity can lead to serious illnesses, some life-threatening.

  • Cardiovascular Diseases: Heart disease, stroke. Excess weight makes it difficult for the heart to work correctly. Hypertension (high blood pressure) can result in multiple different cardiovascular issues.
  • Type 2 Diabetes: Obesity can make you resistant to insulin, causing high blood sugar levels
    and resulting in diabetes.
  • Musculoskeletal Disorders: Osteoarthritis (degenerative disease in the joints). Added weight on joints causes pain and inflammation. Strain on bones and muscles can lead to back problems and slipped disks.
  • Cancer: Endometrial, breast, ovarian, prostate, liver, gallbladder, kidney and colon.
  • High blood cholesterol and triglyceride levels.
  • Increased blood pressure.
  • Lower good cholesterol levels.

Morbid Obesity-Related Illnesses

  • Sleep Apnea: Excess fat in the tongue or in the back of the neck can block air passages. Sleep apnea can cause daytime drowsiness and headaches because of a lack of sleep.
  • Gastroesophageal reflux disease (hiatal hernia and heartburn): Too much weight bears down on the stomach valve (used to pass stomach acid into the esophagus). This block leads to heartburn and indigestion.
  • Depression: The challenges of trying to lose weight, judgment from others, and discrimination in public settings can lead to depression.
  • Infertility: Obesity can negatively affect male and female hormones disrupt cycles and cause problems conceiving.
  • Urinary stress incontinence: When the abdomen gains excess weight it relaxes the pelvic muscles. This can cause unwanted urinating when laughing or coughing.

Preventing Obesity

In most cases obesity can be prevented. With simple lifestyle changes you can take steps to prevent becoming overweight or obese:

  • Limit your intake of fat and sugar.
  • Eat more fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains and nuts.
  • Exercise regularly. It is recommended that adults spend at least 150 minutes a week on physical exercise and children spend at least 60 minutes a day).

Each body is different, so BMI, food recommendations, and exercise recommendations will vary from person to person. Even if you are not in an at-risk group for obesity, talk to your doctor about your recommended BMI, exercise recommendations and diet. Don’t wait for a serious health problem to start before taking steps towards a better lifestyle.

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