For a lot of people, overweight and obesity mean the same thing, where in reality, these two, although pretty similar, have more differences that one would imagine. Their concept is quite close, and yet, there are so many things that let us establish a clear line between these two important health issues. So let us ask you this – Do you know what the difference between overweight and obesity is? If the answer to that question is no, then you definitely need to stick around for what we are about to tell you!
What is the difference between obesity and overweight?
To make this easier for everyone; what we will do is list all of the differences between the terms overweight and obesity so that it would be simpler for you to understand better. We will discuss their similarities, but most of the attention will be drawn to what has brought us here in the first place – the many differences between being overweight and being obese.
The first difference that we need to establish between the terms “obesity” and “overweight” lies in their definition. Obesity is defined as an actual disease, characterized by the excessive deposition and storage of fat. On the other hand, overweight is defined as a condition in which a person weighs more than what is considered to be normal according to his/her age, sex, and height.
Overweight is not considered to be a disease. However, it is considered to be a certain health risk that tends to develop into obesity which is the actual disease that we need to be careful around. In addition, both obesity and overweight draw attention to the point of prevention in order to preserve the lives of people in a healthy, safe matter (1).
The main difference that people are talking about when it comes to drawing a line between obesity and overweight is the BMI range. BMI stands for Body Mass Index, which is measured in units of kg/m², and it requires the person's height and weight for it to be determined. Nowadays, there are multiple BMI calculators available online that determine the BMI in only a few seconds.
A normal BMI is considered to be anywhere around 18.5 to 24.9 kg/m². Overweight classifies as a BMI higher than 24.9 kg/m², or to be more precise a BMI from 25.0 to 29.9 kg/m², whereas obesity is classified as a BMI over 30.0 kg/m². When a doctor suspects a case of obesity and wants to be more precise, determining whether it is obesity or overweight that needs to be dealt with, a BMI is the easiest way to do so. By determining the BMI, the doctor is able to proceed to determine the causes, medical risks, and most importantly, the course of treatment (2).
Although we all know the most obvious answer to the question of what is causing both obesity and overweight, this matter needs to be discussed more deeply. Of course, the number one reason behind both obesity and overweight is eating more food than the body can burn off on a daily level. Genetics also plays a great role in the occurrence of overweight which ultimately progresses to the level of obesity (3 ). But while an unhealthy diet, genetics, and a sedentary lifestyle are linked to both overweight and obesity, certain factors are linked only to obesity.
The difference in causes lays in the long list of certain medical diseases and disorders that are linked to the development of obesity but not to the development of overweight. There is positive evidence that tells us of the close association between hormonal imbalances and obesity. The decline in testosterone levels in men and the decline in estrogen levels in women that of course, happen due to the normal aging process are closely related to the development of obesity (4, 5). Polycystic ovary syndrome is another excellent example of how hormonal imbalances are causing obesity to happen (6). An underactive thyroid is also commonly linked to obesity, but not overweight (7). Other conditions such as osteoarthritis, due to the level of inactivity, are often linked to obesity. Obesity is also commonly caused by certain medications such as antidepressants which are used to treat a certain health issue.
There is a long list of potential risk factors that need to be discussed when it comes to overweight and obesity. As expected, there is a difference that needs to be addressed here, as well. Obesity and overweight both pose as risk factors for a number of dangerous medical issues. While both obesity and overweight have been linked to the risk of high blood pressure, and with that to a list of additional health issues that come with the high blood pressure itself, some risks are more characteristic for obesity alone, and the other way around of course (8).
Taking into consideration of how important of a health issue is depression itself, there has been a lot of talks that overweight is directly linked to depression, even if no other health issues are being present at that time (9). On the other hand, past research only talks about obesity having a role in the development of coronary heart disease and diabetes, and not being overweight (10, 11). All of the previously mentioned health issues only point out the importance of proper prevention when it comes to the issues of overweight and obesity.
Let's dive into the numbers behind these two horrifying health issues. There is a major difference in the numbers between obesity and overweight cases around the world. Although at no point can we be actually sure about the exact number of cases, each year, there are numbers that are approximately determined and that are to be trusted.
According to the data created by the WHO (World Health Organization )., back in 2016, there have been more than 1.9 billion adults who were struggling with overweight. Of these, 650 million adults have been thought to struggle with actual obesity (12). These are numbers that we need to be afraid of, thinking about all of the health issues that are brought by overweight and obesity in the first place. One positive thing is the actual difference between the number of cases of actual obesity and overweight. For those who are struggling with overweight only, there is still an easier path to return to good health and avoid all of the additional health issues that obesity is known to bring.
Occurrence in children
Unfortunately, children are not spared in the process, and they too, are commonly affected by both overweight and obesity. When it comes to cases where children are affected, there are some differences when it comes to the causes. In most cases of both overweight and obesity, it is the unhealthy eating habits and the genetics that are leading up to it.
But the most evident difference between overweight and obesity lays in the numbers. Approximately 22 million children under the age of five have been estimated to struggle with overweight. And around 5% of these 22 million children are estimated to struggle with true obesity. These numbers, as expected, are again, horrifying. And while it may not be the difference that is important in this case, it is the fact that we are talking about so many young lives that are exposed to the great risks that these two conditions are bringing into their lives.
Where it is found geographically
If you look into it geographically, there is clear data that informs us about where most of the overweight and obese cases are to be found around the world. While overweight seems to be found globally, all around the world without any clear ranges, the story about obesity is a bit different. It is not that obesity is not to be found on a global level, but it is to be found in some areas of the world more commonly than in others. Unfortunately, areas such as North America, the United Kingdom, Eastern Europe, Middle East, and China seem to show a presence and an increase in obesity cases.
And the last significant difference that we need to mention is the treatment methods that are used in the cases of overweight and obesity. Of course, there are some obvious similarities including a healthy diet plan in addition to regular physical activity, but when it comes to obesity, its treatment can sometimes include surgery which in no way is to be included for just overweight. Surgery is only recommended in severe cases of obesity where no results have been managed by the previously used techniques.
How to efficiently prevent and obesity and being overweight?
We cannot stress enough the need for every person to manage a healthy weight, taking the necessary measurements in hands as a method to prevent overweight and obesity, along with all of the potential health risks that we discussed until now. It is not about losing weight and looking better, and it is about losing excess weight, maintaining a healthy weight, and feeling better than ever without preparing to show off the body for summer or the Christmas holidays. So let's share some basic techniques about how each and every one of us can prevent overweight and obesity.
- Breastfeed your baby – According to a study published in 2004, breastfeeding is an excellent method for childhood obesity prevention. It has been suggested that children who have not been breastfed in their early years are exposed to the great risk of childhood obesity and all of the health risks that it brings later in life (13).
- Create healthy eating habits – Eating habits are everything for you, as an adult, but most importantly, for your children who can be educated from an early age what is good for their bodies and what clearly is not. Appropriate portion size is also a thing that needs to be thought since overeating can only lead to obesity and nothing more.
- Introduce regular physical activity – Instead of sitting in front of the TV, create the habit to be physically active as much as possible for you and your little ones. Physical activity of any kind can help your children to grow and develop in a healthy manner while it will help you, as an adult, to fight the many health issues that come with old age and it will help you to stay fit and active which is always a plus.
- Reduce your stress levels - Maybe it seems impossible, but it is of essential importance to eliminate stress from our lives. Stress only contributes to a decline in your health, starting from increasing your chances of overweight and obesity, which will ultimately lead to bigger, more significant health issues (14).
- Drink more water – We often forget about how important it is to drink those eight glasses of freshwater each day. And to think about how beneficial drinking water really is. Proper hydration is one of the key methods in obesity prevention, according to a study published back in 2014 (15).
- Eliminate your bad habits – Unhealthy habits such as smoking, excessive drinking, and late-night snacking will only bring you closer to becoming overweight and with time – obese. Exchange these bad habits for some better ones, and enjoy the positive effects that your new and improved lifestyle has on your life.
Overweight and obesity, although they seem similar, have more differences than one could imagine. With the BMI range being the most evident one, overweight and obesity need to be talked about as separate issues. But most importantly, they both need to be drawn attention to as issues that require a proper solution. By avoiding both overweight and obesity, one is avoiding multiple potential health issues that are caused by these two major problems. A healthy diet, regular exercise, and many other small, yet significant things, can help us in the battle against overweight and obesity.