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Editor-In-Chief: Prab R Tumpati, MD
Obesity, Sleep & Internal medicine
Founder, WikiMD Wellnesspedia &
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The term overweight is employed to signify when a human (or other mammal) possesses a higher amount of body fat than is deemed standard or essential for the regular functioning of their body. With the surge in convenience foods, sedentary lifestyles, and other factors, being overweight has become a prevalent health concern, especially in countries like the United States where an estimated 64% of adults are affected[1].

Overweight man AI generated

Essential and Storage Body Fat

For the body to function correctly, it needs a particular amount of essential fat. This ranges between 20-25% for women and 15-18% for men. This fat plays a pivotal role in the regulation of hormonal, reproductive, and immune systems. In addition to this essential fat, most individuals also have storage fat, serving as a reserve for energy. While some storage fat is beneficial, providing thermal insulation and shock absorption, an excess can lead to complications such as reduced mobility, obesity, and potential aesthetic concerns.

Measurement and Classification


To understand the scope and severity of being overweight, it's crucial to measure body fat. Several methods exist:

  • Simple Weighing: By measuring an individual's weight and contrasting it with a perceived ideal weight. However, this method is rudimentary and often overlooks factors like height, muscle mass, and body type.
  • Body Mass Index (BMI): A more advanced way of determining overweight by dividing weight by height squared. Although more accurate than simple weighing, it still has limitations and is best used as a general guideline.
  • Skinfold Calipers or "pinch test": This measures the fat underneath the skin at specific body points. It's a more precise method, but its accuracy is contingent on the professional conducting the test.
  • Bioelectric Impedance: A method that assesses fat and muscle composition by passing electricity through the body. It's increasingly available for home use, but factors like hydration can impact accuracy.
  • Hydrostatic Weighing: A precise method involving underwater weighing to determine body density and fat content.
  • DEXA (dual energy X-ray absorptiometry): An innovative method that uses density measurement for identifying fat content. While accurate, it requires specialized equipment.

Though several methods exist, body mass index (BMI) is commonly used for general discussions, especially by institutions. The current benchmarks set by the US National Institutes of Health and the World Health Organization suggest a BMI of 25 kg/m2 or above as overweight. However, BMI doesn't always capture the intricacies of individual body compositions[2].

Health Implications

Beyond aesthetics, being overweight can have substantial health consequences. While obesity is linked with various health issues, the ramifications of merely being overweight are not as clear-cut. Some studies have hinted that those with a BMI between 25 and 30 might have a reduced mortality rate compared to those in the "ideal" weight category[3]. However, these findings are not definitive. There are considerations beyond mortality, such as the quality of life, which need comprehensive research.


A myriad of factors contribute to individuals becoming overweight. Typically, it arises when calorie intake surpasses calorie expenditure. These are some factors leading to this imbalance:

The body's regulation of fat is believed to be governed subconsciously by the brain. The concept of a "set point" suggests that each individual has a natural weight range that their body aims to maintain. This "set point" can be influenced by genetics, environment, and past experiences.


Many aspire to reduce their weight for health, aesthetic, or lifestyle reasons. The consensus is that a combination of a balanced diet and increased exercise is the most effective approach. For those with severe obesity, medical or surgical interventions might be considered. However, isolated dieting can be short-lived in its effectiveness. Also, the health benefits of weight reduction, particularly for those just overweight, remain a topic of debate[4].

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