Overweight and Obesity Prevention:

Measuring Overweight and Obesity

Overweight refers to increased body weight in relation to height which may or may not be due to increases in body fat. It may also be due to an increase in lean muscle. For example, professional athletes may be very lean and muscular, with very little body fat, yet they may weigh more than others of the same height. While they may qualify as "overweight" due to their large muscle mass, they are not necessarily "over fat," regardless of Body Mass Index (BMI).

Obesity is defined as an excessively high amount of body fat or adipose tissue in relation to lean body mass. The amount of body fat (or adiposity) includes concern for both the distribution of fat throughout the body and the size of the adipose tissue deposits. Body fat distribution can be estimated by skinfold measures, waist-to-hip circumference ratios, or techniques such as ultrasound, computed tomography, or magnetic resonance imaging.

For Adults:
Body Mass Index (BMI) is a common measure expressing the relationship (or ratio) of weight-to-height. It is a mathematical formula in which a person's body weight in kilograms is divided by the square of his or her height in meters (i.e., wt/(ht)2). The BMI is more highly correlated with body fat than any other indicator of height and weight. Individuals with a BMI of 25 to 29.9 are considered overweight, while individuals with a BMI of 30 or more are considered obese.

For Children and Teens:
BMI ranges for children and teens are defined so that they take into account normal differences in body fat between boys and girls and differences in body fat at various ages. For more information about BMI for children and teens (also called BMI-for-age), visit www.cdc.gov.


Additional Measures:

BMI is just one indicator of potential health risks associated with being overweight or obese. For assessing someone’s likelihood of developing overweight- or obesity-related diseases, the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute guidelines recommend looking at two other predictors:

  • The individual’s waist circumference (because abdominal fat is a predictor of risk for obesity-related diseases).
  • Other risk factors the individual has for diseases and conditions associated with obesity (for example, high blood pressure or physical inactivity).

Updated Wednesday, October 08, 2014 at 11:37AM