Normal weight obesity: A hidden health risk?

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Normal weight obesity: A hidden health risk?

Question

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

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Answer

Yes. You can have a normal weight, but if your body fat percentage is high enough, you may be considered obese — a situation known as normal weight obesity. Normal weight obesity means you may have the same serious health risks as does someone who's obese. Obesity is defined as having an excessive amount of body fat — not as weighing too much.

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 high enough to increase health risks.

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.

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

  • Heart disease
  • Diabetes
  • Abnormal cholesterol level, in which your triglyceride level is high, but your HDL ("good") cholesterol level is low
  • 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 may also encourage you to start eating healthier and increase your activity level.

Last Updated: 2011-08-05
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