What is the Difference Between Being Overweight and Obese?

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  • Written By: Elle Jay
  • Edited By: Daniel Lindley
  • Last Modified Date: 10 February 2020
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Although overweight and obese are sometimes used interchangeably, the two terms have different meanings. Both words refer to being overweight for a particular height, but the specifics vary when defining overweight and obese. The difference between being overweight and obese lies in how much a person weighs over the normal, healthy recommended weight for his or her height.

The terms overweight and obese both describe a body weight above what is considered normal or healthy for a certain height. Overweight is closer to normal than obese. A scale measuring body weight would begin at normal and progress to overweight and then obese, which is followed by morbidly obese. Differentiating between overweight and obese is most important when it comes to calculating the health effects of weighing more than normal.

Determining whether a person is overweight or obese is usually calculated by figuring out the body mass index (BMI). Experts consider the BMI a fast, easy, and accurate way to determine the amount of body fat based upon a person’s weight and height. Using kilograms and meters, BMI is determined by dividing weight by the square of height(kg/m2). To determine BMI in pounds and inches, weight is divided by the square of height, and the resulting quotient multiplied by the number 703 (lb/in2 x 703).


Most medical professionals agree that a healthy BMI for adults is between 18.5 and 24.9. A person is considered overweight with a BMI between 25 and 29.9, and obese with a BMI between 30 and 39.9. A BMI over 40 is classified as morbidly obese.

As with any health diagnosis, weight calculations are subject to more than just weight and height. Body condition and other health factors should also be taken into account when determining healthy weight. As a general reference, however, BMI is helpful and can be used to determine certain health risks.

Maintaining an unhealthy weight can lead to a variety of health problems. One of the biggest differences between being overweight and obese deals with health risks. While carrying extra weight is not recommended, it is not considered dramatically unhealthy until levels reach the obese or morbidly obese stages. Studies have shown that obesity contributes to a number of illnesses and is one of the leading causes of death.

Being overweight can contribute to minor health problems such as allergies, asthma, joint pain, and sleep apnea, which is reason enough to maintain a normal, healthy weight. Research has shown that obesity increases the risk of several serious illnesses, including high blood pressure, heart disease, gall bladder disease, osteoarthritis, type 2 diabetes, stroke, and some cancers. Weight loss accomplished by healthy eating habits and regular exercise can help lower the risk factors and improve longevity for individuals who are overweight and obese.


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