Can you be considered obese if you have a normal body weight?

As surprising as it may sound, you can have a normal weight but actually have so much body fat that you’re considered obese – a situation known as normal weight obesity. And normal weight obesity means you may have the same serious health risks as does someone who’s obese.

 

A formula called body mass index (BMI) is used to determine whether you’re at a healthy weight for your height. But BMI doesn’t tell the whole story because it doesn’t measure body fat. So you may have a normal BMI while your body fat percentage is dangerously high. Obesity is actually defined as having an excessive amount of body fat – not weighing too much.
 

Researchers are still trying to determine what percentage of body fat counts as obesity when your weight is normal, and whether guidelines should be different depending on your age and sex. Some researchers have said that for women body fat should be less than 30 percent and for men less than 20 or 25 percent. Anything over that would be considered normal weight obesity. So, if you’re a woman who is 5 feet 5 inches (1.65 meters) tall and you weigh 140 pounds (63.5 kilograms), you would have a normal BMI of 23.3. But if 42 of those pounds (19 kilograms) are fat – 30 percent – you would have normal weight obesity. If you’re a man who is 5 feet 9 inches (1.75 meters) tall and you weigh 160 pounds (72.6 kilograms), you would have a normal BMI of 23.6. But if 40 of those pounds (18 kilograms) are fat – 25 percent – you would have normal weight obesity.
 

Like obesity, normal weight obesity may increase your risk of serious health problems, including:

  • Heart disease

  • Diabetes

  • High cholesterol

  • High blood pressure

  • Metabolic syndrome
     

If you’re concerned about your body fat percentage, talk to your doctor. Your doctor may want to measure your body fat and recommend additional tests to see if you’re at risk of obesity-related conditions. Your doctor will also probably encourage you to start eating healthier and increase your activity level.

Beth Shaw