The Difference Between Overweight And Obesity

By MaryAnn DePietro, CRT. May 7th 2016

Being either overweight or obese is defined as having an excess amount of fat tissue, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). The degree to which an individual is overweight determines whether he or she is considered obese. Being either overweight or obese is a major health problem worldwide, as the number of people suffering from these conditions continues to grow. Although being overweight or obese is attributed to many of the same diseases and health conditions, there is a difference between the two.

Difference Between Overweight And Obese

A person can be overweight, but not be considered obese. One way to determine if a person is considered obese is by looking at his body mass index (BMI). The body mass index is calculated using a person’s weight and height. A BMI between 25 and just under 30 is considered overweight.

A BMI that is 30 or over is categorized as obese. In the United States, more than a third of adults over the age of 20 are considered obese, according to The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Complications due to obesity are the fifth leading cause of death globally, according to the WHO.

It should be noted that BMI cannot always be used to determine whether a person is overweight or obese. According to the CDC, athletes may be identified as overweight or even obese according to the BMI, even if they do not have any excess body fat. A person’s BMI is calculated from a person’s weight and height. However, a person’s weight is a combination of fat and muscle. In the case of athletes, excess weight can be attributed to increased muscularity and not body fat alone.

Health Risks

Now that you understand the difference between being overweight and obese, it’s important to know the risks. There are numerous health risks associated with being both overweight and obese. Although overweight individuals have an increased chance of certain health problems, those who are obese are at even greater risk of complications.

Some of the health problems associated with being overweight and obese include the following:

  • Diabetes: Individuals who are obese are at a much higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes, which can lead to kidney, vision and heart problems.
  • Heart disease: People who are overweight have a higher risk of developing clogged coronary arteries, which can lead to a heart attack.
  • Sleep problems: Sleep apnea is a common complication of obesity. It occurs when the airway becomes obstructed or collapses during periods of sleep.
  • Hypertension: According to the Surgeon General, high blood pressure is twice as likely to develop in people who are obese.
  • Cancer: Being overweight is a risk factor for certain types of cancer, such as prostate, colon and kidney.

Treatment Options

There are several treatment options available to help someone lose weight. The best option may depend on the person’s age, underlying health problems, and how much weight the person needs to lose.

Treatment approaches are usually more conservative if a person is overweight and not considered obese. For instance, people who are overweight may be treated through lifestyle changes, such as starting an exercise program and reducing calories. Medically supervised weight loss programs, which may include meal replacement drinks and supplied meals may be an option for some people.

People suffering from obesity may have to take more drastic measures than those who are overweight to get their weight under control. For example, weight loss surgery may be a viable option for an obese person. An individual may have to qualify for weight loss surgery by having a very high BMI.

While requirements to qualify for weight loss surgery may vary, surgery is not intended for those who are only slightly to moderately overweight. Here is an example of two surgical procedures that may be used to treat obesity:

  • Adjustable gastric banding: An adjustable band is placed over part of the stomach, which reduces how much a person can eat at one time.
  • Gastric bypass: A pouch is created, which rests on top of the stomach. The small intestine is connected to the new pouch. Food enters the newly created pouch and bypasses the stomach. Less food is consumed, and weight loss occurs.

The type of weight loss procedure recommended will depend in part by how much weight a person has to lose.


Becoming overweight or obese is often preventable. The best time to start preventing obesity is during childhood. Children who are overweight often stay overweight into adulthood. Learning how to make healthy choices at a young age, may lead to healthy habits into adulthood. Children should be taught healthy habits including learning about healthy portion sizes and what types of food are part of a healthy diet. Children should be encouraged to select fresh fruits, vegetables and lean proteins as part of their diet.

Staying active is also an important measure in preventing obesity. Families should try to participate in regular exercise, such as taking walks together, swimming and bike riding.

Adults can also prevent obesity by limiting unhealthy fast food, reducing sugary soda intake and learning how to make healthy meal choices.

Although there is a difference between being overweight and obese, the consequences of both conditions can include life threatening medical complications. The good news is becoming overweight or obese is often preventable and treatable. Education is key to learning how to select healthy foods, limit portions and develop a regular exercise program.


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