How an Obesity Definition Can Help Your Health

The standard obesity definition takes into account body mass index. If your BMI is 30 or higher, your physician can help you find the best ways to lose weight and improve your health.

obesity definition

Carrying extra weight: It can lead to all kinds of health risks, from diabetes to heart disease and even depression.

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Obesity in the U.S. has reached what some call an epidemic; more than one-third of American adults are obese. The obesity definition most commonly used by healthcare providers is based on body mass index (BMI), a formula that calculates a number based on your height and weight.

You can calculate your own BMI by using this formula:
Weight in pounds ÷ (Height in inches x Height in inches) x 703

As an example, if you weigh 180 pounds and are 5 feet 4 inches (64 inches) tall, you’d multiply 64 by 64 (4096), divide 180 by 4096 (0.0439), multiply that by 703, and end up with a BMI of 30.89.

BMI results are classified as follows:

  • 18.5 or lower: Underweight
  • 18.5 to 24.9: Normal weight
  • 25.0 to 29.9: Overweight
  • 30.0 and above: Obese

If you’d rather not do the math, don’t worry—there are plenty of websites that provide BMI calculators and BMI tables. Among them is an easy-to-use example at, a non-profit organization dedicated to weight loss. See also this National Institute of Health page, and click here for a sample BMI table.

Doctors Take New View of Obesity

In 2013, the American Medical Association declared that obesity is officially a disease, giving it the same status as high blood pressure, diabetes, or heart disease in medical nomenclature. Viewing obesity as a disease rather than as a result of poor lifestyle choices reduces the stigma and judgment associated with the condition and hopefully makes it easier for people who are obese to seek medical treatment.

In 2016, the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists (AACE) issued obesity management guidelines suggesting that obesity should be considered a chronic disease. The guidelines also recommend that obesity treatment focus on improving a patient’s overall health, rather than concentrating solely on weight loss.

The AACE’s obesity definition takes into consideration a patient’s BMI, as well as the presence and severity of 15 weight-related complications, including hypertension, prediabetes, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, depression, osteoarthritis, and urinary stress incontinence.

“Our rationale for creating these guidelines was the fact that obesity medicine lacks comprehensive and evidence-based guidelines that are translatable to re-al-world clinical care of patients with obesity,” explained W. Timothy Garvey, MD, FACE, chair of the AACE Obesity Scientific Committee and a professor and chair of the Department of Nutrition Sciences at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

Treatment for Obesity

Having a standard obesity definition can be particularly helpful when it comes to getting treatment. Many insurance plans, including Medicare and those purchased through the Affordable Care Act, include weight-loss services in their benefits, and it is hoped that the AACE’s obesity management guidelines will aid in convincing more insurance companies to provide coverage for obesity.

To qualify for weight-loss treatments through Medicare, you must be diagnosed as obese, with a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or higher. You also may be eligible if you have a BMI of 25 to 29.9 and suffer from related conditions, such as:

If you are overweight or obese, chances are you already know that losing weight and keeping it off isn’t easy. However, if you meet the obesity definition, you can get help from your doctor and other healthcare professionals who can help you reduce your weight while lowering risks of multiple conditions that accompany obesity.

Originally published in 2016, this post is regularly updated.

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Dawn Bialy

Dawn Bialy has been executive editor of Weill Cornell Medicine’s Women’s Health Advisor newsletter since 2007. Bialy also has served as managing editor for a variety of special health reports, … Read More

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