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Definition of Obese

  • Medical Author:
    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.

Obese: Well above one's normal weight. A person has traditionally been considered to be obese if they are more than 20% over their ideal weight. That ideal weight must take into account the person's height, age, sex, and build.

Obesity has been more precisely defined by the National Institutes of Health (the NIH) as a BMI (Body Mass Index) of 30 and above. (A BMI of 30 is about 30 pounds overweight.) The BMI, a key index for relating body weight to height, is a person's weight in kilograms (kg) divided by their height in meters (m) squared. Since the BMI describes the body weight relative to height, it correlates strongly (in adults) with the total body fat content. Some very muscular people may have a high BMI without undue health risks.

Obesity is often multi-factorial, based on both genetic and behavioral factors. Accordingly, treatment of obesity usually requires more than just dietary changes. Exercise, counseling and support, and sometimes medication can supplement diet to help patients conquer weight problems. Extreme diets, on the other hand, can actually contribute to increased obesity.

Being overweight is a significant contributor to health problems. It increases the risk of developing a number of diseases including:

  • Type 2 (adult-onset) diabetes
  • High blood pressure (hypertension)
  • Stroke (cerebrovascular accident or CVA)
  • Heart attack (myocardial infarction or MI)
  • Heart failure (congestive heart failure)
  • Cancer (certain forms such as cancer of the prostate and cancer of the colon and rectum)
  • Gallstones and gall bladder disease (cholecystitis)
  • Gout and gouty arthritis
  • Osteoarthritis (degenerative arthritis) of the knees, hips, and the lower back
  • Sleep apnea (failure to breath normally during sleep, lowering blood oxygen)
  • Pickwickian syndrome (obesity, red face, underventilation, and drowsiness).

Reviewed on 12/27/2018

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