Overweight or Obese: What’s the Difference?

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The subject of obesity appears quite often in the media, generally accompanied by reports on its prevalence and warnings about what this means for both individuals and for society. In these articles, the term 'overweight' may be used as well, sometimes reporting on the percentages of the child or adult population deemed to be carrying excess weight. For this reason, the definitions of 'overweight' and 'obesity' can be seen as synonymous to the casual observer but there are crucial differences between the two conditions.

It's not just about weight

Weight LifterAlthough both an overweight person and an obese one are heavier than is considered proportionate for their height, the obese person is specifically one who is carrying too much fat. The standard measure of somebody's state with regard to weight is through the calculation of their body mass index (BMI), which is the ratio of their height to weight. The categories of underweight, normal etc. are quite broad to allow for variations in build; to be considered overweight, an adult must have a BMI of between 25 and 25.9, while the classification of 'obese' begins at a BMI of 30. However, there are individuals who have a high BMI due to carrying larger than usual amounts of muscle, such as bodybuilders or people who play a lot of sports, which is why methods of measuring the percentage of body fat are also used.

What are the causes?

While, at its most basic level, the cause of both overweight and obesity is the consumption of more calories than are necessary, the reasons why this occurs are numerous. Eating too much or, perhaps more accurately, too much of the wrong foods, is the most common reason, closely followed by simply not getting enough exercise. Many people find their work or family commitments can interfere with how much physical activity they get, particularly if they have a job that is desk based. The underlying causes of this calorific imbalance can include such things as eating disorders and poor nutritional education. Other factors should be taken into account, though, such as various illnesses, the effects of certain medications, and genetic makeup, which can dictate the parameters of metabolic rate, the speed at which an individual uses energy.

The problems associated with being overweight and obesity

When someone is obese, the extra fat they possess is stored throughout the body, including in and around their vital organs as well as in the blood and, of course, all over the person's frame. Because of the effects on the body's functions and the additional strain on organs and joints, a number of issues can arise, including:

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  • High blood pressure; this puts great strain on the blood vessels and heart and can lead to secondary problems, such as vascular dementia and kidney disease.
  • Heart disease; this can be caused by both the increased strain of supplying blood to a larger area and the effects of fat deposits in the bloodstream and adhering to the walls of arteries.
  • Stroke; this is often caused by a blockage of the blood flow to the brain as a result of blood clots becoming wedged in narrowed arteries.
  • Type 2 diabetes; this is clearly linked to obesity, although there are no definitive studies that have identified why. Medical statistics show that an obese person is as much as 80 times more likely to develop this form of diabetes than somebody with a healthy BMI.
  • Osteoarthritis; this develops when the cartilage around a joint becomes damaged and the bone takes more of the strain of supporting the person's weight. This leads to deformity of the joint and can cause severe pain and limit movement.

Although these are by no means the only complications, they are certainly among the most serious. When sufficient extra fat is being stored to give a clinical diagnosis of obesity, the associated risks increase exponentially. Obesity tends to bring with it a raft of mobility problems, even beyond the severe osteoarthritis that occurs when undue strain is placed on the joints; this can lead to isolation, depression and other mental health disorders.

A solution to the problem

Once the situation has reached the stage of clinical obesity, it is likely that the individual will be in frequent contact with medical professionals who are in the ideal position to advise on what steps to take. A two-pronged approach is the best, with a reduction in calorific intake and a gradual increase in physical activity. This should be monitored by clinicians due to the likelihood of any or all of the aforementioned health problems being present. By reducing both weight and percentage of fat, many of the long-term effects of obesity can be checked, or even reversed.

Over the last few decades, the number of people being identified as overweight or obese has risen steeply. This is undoubtedly connected to a change in the nature of the most commonly held jobs, an increase in sedentary hobbies, such as online gaming, and the ease with which people can obtain high-fat foods at low prices.