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‘Overfat’: a new term that experts say is overdue

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Can you believe that for the first time in history, there are more obese people globally than there are underweight people? While the obesity epidemic has reached new heights, experts say the ‘overfat’ pandemic may be more serious.

What do the terms mean?

The terms ‘overweight’ and ‘obesity’ are commonly used now, but what do they actually mean? Your body composition is classified based on a Body Mass Index (BMI); a standard measurement using the individual’s weight divided by their height in square meters.

According to the World Health Organisation, the classifications are as follows:

  • Underweight = <18.5
  • Normal weight = 18.5 – 24.9
  • Overweight = 25-29.9
  • Obese = >30

You can calculate your BMI here to find out where you sit.

Unfortunately, the BMI calculation has limitations when measuring obesity as it does not directly measure body fat. As a result, clinicians opt to using a combination of diagnostic tools including BMI, waist circumference and bio-impedance analysis.

A recent study published in the journal Frontiers in Public Health has put forward the notion that people with a normal weight BMI status can be ‘overfat’ and have an increased risk of chronic disease. The authors propose to use the terms ‘overfat’ and ‘underfat’ as relying on BMI can lead to a misdiagnosis.

The article states: “the term overfat accurately specifies the precise problem of excess body fat and impaired fat metabolism that directly influences health and fitness. It also eliminates common terms that are not accurate, including being overweight (not a measurement of fat) and obese, which references individuals being above a certain BMI”.

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Incredibly, the authors of the article suggest that up to 76 percent of the world’s population is ‘overfat’. Approximately 10 percent is deemed ‘underfat’ and only 14 percent are within the normal, healthy body-fat percentage.

Why the new terminology?

The authors of the study state the new terminology of ‘overfat’ and ‘underfat’ should replace the old terms of ‘overweight’ and ‘obesity’. Based on the latest research, the authors believe these terms could be more helpful in addressing this global health crisis.

It’s argued these proposed terms are useful as they describe just how much of your total body weight is comprised of fat. This is vital in those who do not fit the weight-based criteria of obesity or who are classified as normal weight based on their BMI but have sufficient excess body fat.

Using the terms ‘overfat’ and ‘underfat’ will “improve accuracy, end conduction, and encourage healthier lifestyles that reduce excess body fat”, the authors state. By simplifying these terms, it is believed to help prevent chronic diseases associated with excess body fat.

Are you overfat?

Dr. Georgia Rigas, Chair of the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) Obesity Network, says
“It’s not always easy to tell”.

“This is a classic case of you cannot, nor should you, judge a book by its cover”, she tells the Sydney Morning Herald.

Overfat people appear to be overweight or they have a ‘beer belly’. However, there are also the people that are carrying the additional fat well enough for you not to judge them as overweight, yet are at an increased risk of chronic disease.

These risks include wearing down of joints, infertility, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and some cancers. There is also the increased risks of depression and anxiety.

These psychological effects of being overweight or obese has Dr. Rigas questioning the use of this latest terminology. “I assure you, no one chooses to be overweight or obese and have all the physical and emotional problems that come along with it”, says Dr. Rigas.

People carrying excess weight feel “significant amounts of shame”. Using terminology that removes the stigma of being overweight Dr. Rigas believes will be helpful. However, she doesn’t believe the term ‘overfat’ is the right message to be sending to help address these issues.

“Labelling people ‘fat’ simply creates further barriers to treatment”, says Dr. Rigas.

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