Overweight and obese are labels for weight ranges. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), weights in these ranges are higher than what is generally considered healthy for a given height. Having a weight in one of these categories may increase your risk for certain diseases and health problems. The definitions of overweight and obese are different for adults than children.
Definitions for Adults - Weight ranges for adults are defined using Body Mass Index (BMI) — a number, usually between 15 and 40, calculated from a person's height and weight. The easiest way to determine your BMI is to use the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics online BMI calculator. A calculator will give you both your BMI and the weight category your BMI falls within.
Weight Ranges for Adults (BMI - Weight Category)
~Below 18.5 - Underweight
~18.5 to 24.9 - Normal or healthy weight
~25.0 to 29.9 - Overweight
~30.0 and above - Obese
While most people associate BMI with body fat, it is not a measurement of body fat. This means that some people can have a BMI in the overweight range even though they do not have excess body fat, which is especially true for athletes.
Definitions for Children and Teens - For people ages 2 to 19, BMI is referred to as BMI-for-age and is determined using height, weight, age and gender. Body fat varies at different ages; boys and girls tend to have different amounts of body fat. BMI-for-age is given as a percentile that shows where a child's or teen's BMI falls in comparison to others of the same age and gender. Use CDC's BMI Calculator for Child and Teen.
Weight Ranges for Children and Teens (BMI - Weight Category)
~Less than 5th percentile - Underweight
~5th to 85th percentile - Normal or healthy weight
~85th to less than 95th percentile - Overweight
~Equal to or greater than 95th percentile - Obese
As with adults, BMI-for-age may be used as a screening tool, not as a diagnostic test. A health care provider needs more information to determine if excess weight is a health problem. In addition to calculating BMI-for-age, a health care provider may ask about family health history, eating habits and the amount of physical activity your child gets. Additional assessments may include skin fold thickness measurements and lab tests for cholesterol and blood sugar levels.
Overweight and Obese as Stereotypes
While the terms overweight and obese have precise definitions as noted above, these labels take on other meanings in our weight-obsessed society. Often, overweight and obese people are stereotyped, even enduring unfair treatment because of their weight. Larger children often are the target of weight-related bullying by other children and adults. Overweight and obese are terms that refer only to a general estimate of an individual's body weight. They do not in any way reflect on a person's competence, self-discipline, drive or ability to lead a healthy lifestyle.