Overweight Or Obese: How To Tell The Difference

Obesity is a critical problem in contemporary American society. According to the most recent studies, over one third of Americans were found to be obese, with two thirds found to be overweight or obese. To the undiscerning eye, the two might appear similar, but in medical terms, being overweight or obesity can carry very different meanings. Obesity is the more severe of the two, especially as it can evolve into morbid obesity if left unchecked. Five percent of Americans are designated as morbidly obese, a figure that represents a 400% increase since 1986, only thirty years or so ago. Clearly America has a growing problem when it comes to obesity, which can threaten people’s careers, lifestyles, and ultimately, their lives.

Obesity also has the potential to be designated as a disability, especially if it is full-blown morbid obesity (the ‘morbid’ here meaning ‘diseased’ or ‘pathological’). The lines, however, are a little blurred. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA for short) protects U.S. citizens with disabilities, and it seems unclear whether obesity is considered a disability. Generally, the accepted ruling is that it must cause a physical impairment for it to be deemed a full on disability, giving the patient license to avail of things like a disabled parking permit. A simple diagnosis of ‘overweight’ wouldn’t be termed a disability by any means, as the term overweight can mean any degree of additional weight above the accepted BMI. With that in mind, it might help to differentiate the terms ‘overweight’ and ‘obesity’ from each other, so that you can be informed of the difference.

Dr Handicap - measure weight

An online doctor’s consultation will be able to tell you if you are overweight or obese.

If you asked the average person the difference between being overweight and being obese, they would probably reply that the latter means you’re larger than the former. While this is correct in a very basic sense, it doesn’t explain why there are two different words for what essentially would amount to the same condition, albeit a more developed version. It pays to look a little closer, and discover what separates the two. A person’s body mass index (or BMI) is the crucial component here. To be ‘overweight’ means that you are beyond a weight which has been classed as normal when applied to your height. This could be ten pounds over, or it could be eighty pounds over. Technically, it could be one single pound over; you’d still be classed as overweight in the medical sense. This doesn’t mean that you’re disabled in any sense of the word; you may not even be impaired, depending on your health and lifestyle.

Obesity, however, is another kettle of fish. It’s defined as a condition where a person has a BMI of 30kg/m2 (i.e. a BMI of greater than 30). Morbid obesity is defined as a person who’s more than 100 pounds overweight or has a BMI of 40kg/m2 (or greater than 40). Lugging around an extra 80 – 100 pounds more on top of your body weight can have serious consequences for a person’s health. Obesity is marked by the excessive deposition and storage of fat, which, once accumulated, can be very hard to lose. Complications can include coronary heart disease, diabetes, hypertension and high blood pressure. In comparison, the risks to a simply overweight person are reduced to just high blood pressure. Neither obesity or being overweight are an optimum or healthy state to be in of course; but one is much more dangerous than the other. You can also reverse being overweight with lifestyle changes and diet plans; obesity is much harder to recover from.

Once a person has consulted with a doctor, calculated their BMI and discovered they’re morbidly obese, there are certain things that can be done to ease their situation. Walking with a cane, or in extreme cases a wheelchair, can be a good short term solution while the patient and their doctor work to bring the weight down. Availing of a disabled parking permit might also make life easier; being morbidly obese should allow someone to qualify for a handicap parking permit, which will make it simpler and quicker to find a parking spot when they’re out and about. The important thing to remember is, while these concessions can help aid morbidly obese people, the most crucial thing on the agenda is a focus on bringing the excess weight back down to healthy levels. Your primary care physician can help you manage this, so they should be your first port of call if you’re worried about what you’re seeing on the scales.

Many things contribute to a person’s weight, including lifestyle, genetics and diet, but what any weight problem, be it overweight or obesity, essentially comes down to is an energy imbalance. You’re consuming more calories than you can burn off during the day. It’s always more practical to catch a weight problem sooner rather than later; shaking off an obese condition is no small task. So if you’re worried, make sure to check your BMI as soon as possible, or schedule a check up with your family doctor if needs be.