Defining Overweight and Obese

Reviewed by Sarah Klemm, RDN, CD, LDN
Defining Overweight and Obese

champja/iStock/Thinkstock

Overweight and obese are labels for weight ranges. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, weights in these ranges are higher than what is generally considered healthy for a given height. Having a weight in one of these categories may increase your risk for certain diseases and health problems. The definitions of overweight and obese are different for adults than children.

Definitions for Adults

Weight ranges for adults are defined using body mass index — a number calculated from a person's height and weight. The easiest way to determine your BMI is to use an online BMI calculator. A calculator will give you both your BMI and the weight category your BMI falls within..

Weight Ranges for Adults

BMI Weight Category
Below 18.5 Underweight
18.5 to 24.9 Normal or healthy weight
25.0 to 29.9 Overweight
30.0 and above Obese

As with adults, BMI-for-age may be used as a screening tool, not as a diagnostic test. A health care provider needs more information to determine if excess body weight is a health problem. In addition to calculating BMI-for-age, a health care provider may ask about family health history, eating habits and the amount of physical activity your child gets. Additional assessments may help determine health risk, including skin fold thickness measurements and lab tests for cholesterol and blood sugar levels.

Overweight and Obese as Stereotypes

While the terms overweight and obese have precise definitions as noted above, these labels take on other meanings in our weight-obsessed society. Often, people who are considered to be overweight or obese are stereotyped, even enduring unfair treatment because of their weight. Larger children often are the target of weight-related bullying by other children and adults.

Overweight and obese are terms that refer only to a general estimate of an individual's body weight. They do not in any way reflect on a person's competence, self-discipline, drive or ability to lead a healthy lifestyle.

Find an Expert

Need serious help making a plan? The nutrition experts in our professional membership are ready to help you create the change to improve your life.

Find an Expert