Deeper than obesity: A majority of people is now overfat

January 3, 2017
Chart shows the estimated percentages and numbers of overfat (in red) and underfat (in blue) adults and children worldwide (based on 2014 world population of 7.2 Billion). Credit: Image re-used with permission from Maffetone, Rivera and Laursen (2016) Front. Public Health, frontiersin.org

Just in time for those making New Year's resolutions, researchers take a closer look on the current data to suggest up to 76 percent of the world's population is overfat. This amounts to an astonishing 5.5 billion people.

"The overfat pandemic has not spared those who exercise or even compete in sports," says lead author of the study Dr. Philip Maffetone, CEO of MAFF Fitness Pty Ltd, who collaborated with Ivan Rivera-Dominguez, research assistant at MAFF and Paul B. Laursen, adjunct professor at the Auckland University of Technology.

The researchers put forth a specific notion of overfat, a condition of having sufficient excess to impair health, in their recent research hypothesis & theory article published in the journal Frontiers in Public Health. Based on a new look into current data, they argue how, in addition to those who are overweight and obese, others falling into the overfat category include normal-weight people.

"The overfat category includes normal-weight people with increased risk factors for chronic disease, such as high abdominal fat, and those with characteristics of a condition called normal-weight metabolic obesity," explains Maffetone.

While the obesity epidemic has grown considerably over the last three to four decades, this work casts light on the much higher numbers of people who may have unhealthy levels of body fat.

"We want to bring awareness of the rise in these risk factors, where the terms 'overfat' and 'underfat' describe new body composition states. We hope the terms will enter into common usage, to help create substantive improvements in world health," says Maffetone.

The work also indicates that 9 to 10 percent of the world population may be underfat. "While we think of the condition of underfat as being due to starvation, those worldwide numbers are dropping rapidly. However, an aging population, an increase in chronic disease and a rising number of excessive exercisers or those with anorexia athletica, are adding to the number of non-starving underfat individuals," he explains.

This leaves as little as 14 percent of the world's population with normal body-fat percentage, shows the analysis.

"This is a global concern because of its strong association with rising chronic disease and climbing healthcare costs, affecting people of all ages and incomes," concludes Maffetone.

The study brings to light that new terminology—overfat—is important to replace the old notions of 'overweight' and 'obese'. While it is estimated that up to 49 percent of the world's population, or 3.5 billion people, are obese or overweight, the well-documented may merely be the tip of the overfat iceberg, state the authors.

The term overfat, as opposed to obesity and overweight, may be more helpful moving forward in addressing this global health problem. "Better, more descriptive terminology tends to have downstream positive effects on

Summary major points of the work:

  • The distinction between 'overweight' and 'overfat.'
  • This is the first effort to globally quantify those who are overfat versus overweight or obese.
  • The traditional body-mass index (BMI) measures weight and height, but is not a direct measure of body fat.
  • Waist circumference may be a more practical solution than the bathroom scale for clinical identification of metabolic health issues.
  • Better terminology may lead to better awareness of overfat risks, and help healthcare professionals, public health officials and the public more easily address these problems.

Explore further: Normal weight may not protect against diabetes

More information: Philip B. Maffetone et al, Overfat and Underfat: New Terms and Definitions Long Overdue, Frontiers in Public Health (2017). DOI: 10.3389/fpubh.2016.00279

Related Stories

Normal weight may not protect against diabetes

July 14, 2016
(HealthDay)—Type 2 diabetes has long been considered a disease of the overweight and obese, but a new study challenges that notion. It finds nearly one in five normal-weight people has prediabetes—a condition that can ...

Obesity linked to premature death, with greatest effect in men

July 14, 2016
A study of 3.9 million adults published today in The Lancet finds that being overweight or obese is associated with an increased risk of premature death. The risks of coronary heart disease, stroke, respiratory disease and ...

Overweight and obesity linked to high workers' compensation costs

September 28, 2016
Obese and overweight workers are more likely to incur high costs related to workers' compensation claims for major injuries, reports a study in the September Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, official publication ...

Overweight/obesity up incidence of hand, hip, knee osteoarthritis

August 3, 2016
(HealthDay)—The incidence of hand, hip, and knee osteoarthritis (OA) increases with overweight and obesity, particularly in the knee, according to a study published in the August issue of Arthritis & Rheumatology.

Risk of adolescents being overweight impacted by neighborhood education, income levels

August 25, 2016
A new Kaiser Permanente study found an increased risk for becoming overweight or obese among normal-weight 18-year-olds who lived in neighborhoods with lower education or income levels. The study, published today in Pediatric ...

Majority of people—including health professionals—struggle to identify obesity

November 11, 2014
The majority of people - including healthcare professionals - are unable to visually identify whether a person is a healthy weight, overweight or obese according to research by psychologists at the University of Liverpool.

Recommended for you

Are sugary drink interventions changing people's behaviour?

July 19, 2017
An evaluation of efforts designed to reduce how many sugary drinks we consume shows some success in changing younger people's habits but warns they cannot be the only way to cut consumption.

Young adult obesity: A neglected, yet essential focus to reverse the obesity epidemic

July 18, 2017
The overall burden of the U.S. obesity epidemic continues to require new thinking. Prevention of obesity in young adults, while largely ignored as a target for prevention and study, will be critical to reversing the epidemic, ...

Weight gain from early to middle adulthood may increase risk of major chronic diseases

July 18, 2017
Cumulative weight gain over the course of early and middle adulthood may increase health risks later in life, according to a new study led by researchers from Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. They found that, compared ...

Study finds children carry implicit bias towards peers who are overweight

June 23, 2017
Even children as young as 9 years old can carry a prejudice against their peers who are overweight, according to a new study led by Duke Health researchers. They might not even realize they feel this way.

Mother's obesity boosts risk for major birth defects: study

June 15, 2017
Children of obese women are more likely to be afflicted by major birth defects, including malformations of the heart and genitals, according to a study published on Thursday.

New study finds more than 2 billion people overweight or obese

June 12, 2017
Globally, more than 2 billion children and adults suffer from health problems related to being overweight or obese, and an increasing percentage of people die from these health conditions, according to a new study.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.