WIN (Weight-control Information Network) - An information service of the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK)


Picture of people and food Picture of food Picture of exercise equipment
Skip NavigationSkip Navigation
Home Publications Order WIN Notes Update Statistics Research Resources About WIN
Facebook

Home > Publications > Understanding Adult Overweight and Obesity
Understanding Adult Overweight and Obesity cover

Understanding Adult
Overweight and Obesity

When we eat more calories than we burn, our bodies store this extra energy as fat. While a few extra pounds may not seem like a big deal, they can increase your chances of having high blood pressure and high blood sugar. These conditions may lead to serious health problems, including heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, and certain cancers.

Today, more than two-thirds of adults in the United States are considered to be overweight or obese. More than one-third of adults have obesity. This fact sheet will help you find out if you may be at risk of developing weight-related health problems. It will also explain how overweight and obesity are treated and give you ideas for improving your health at any weight.

How can I tell if I am at a normal weight?

Body mass index (BMI) is one way to tell whether you are at a normal weight, overweight, or obese. The BMI measures your weight in relation to your height.

The BMI table below will help you to find your BMI score. Find your height in inches in the left column labeled "Height." Move across the row to your weight. The number at the top of the column is the BMI for that height and weight. Pounds are rounded off. You may also go to the Resources section at the end of this page for a link to an online tool for measuring BMI.

A BMI of 18.5 to 24.9 is in the normal range. A person with a BMI of 25 to 29.9 is considered overweight, and someone with a BMI of 30 or greater is considered obese.

However, because BMI doesn't measure actual body fat, a person who is very muscular, like a bodybuilder, may have a high BMI without having a lot of body fat. Please review your findings with your health care provider if your BMI is outside of the normal range.

Table 1. Body Mass Index Table

To use the table, find the appropriate height in the left-hand column labeled Height. Move across to a given weight (in pounds).
The number at the top of the column is the BMI at that height and weight. Pounds have been rounded off.

  Normal Overweight Obese Extreme Obesity
         
BMI 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42 43 44 45 46 47 48 49 50 51 52 53 54
Height
(inches)
    Body Weight
(pounds)
 
58 91 96 100 105 110 115 119 124 129 134 138 143 148 153 158 162 167 172 177 181 186 191 196 201 205 210 215 220 224 229 234 239 244 248 253 258
59 94 99 104 109 114 119 124 128 133 138 143 148 153 158 163 168 173 178 183 188 193 198 203 208 212 217 222 227 232 237 242 247 252 257 262 267
60 97 102 107 112 118 123 128 133 138 143 148 153 158 163 168 174 179 184 189 194 199 204 209 215 220 225 230 235 240 245 250 255 261 266 271 276
61 100 106 111 116 122 127 132 137 143 148 153 158 164 169 174 180 185 190 195 201 206 211 217 222 227 232 238 243 248 254 259 264 269 275 280 285
62 104 109 115 120 126 131 136 142 147 153 158 164 169 175 180 186 191 196 202 207 213 218 224 229 235 240 246 251 256 262 267 273 278 284 289 295
63 107 113 118 124 130 135 141 146 152 158 163 169 175 180 186 191 197 203 208 214 220 225 231 237 242 248 254 259 265 270 278 282 287 293 299 304
64 110 116 122 128 134 140 145 151 157 163 169 174 180 186 192 197 204 209 215 221 227 232 238 244 250 256 262 267 273 279 285 291 296 302 308 314
65 114 120 126 132 138 144 150 156 162 168 174 180 186 192 198 204 210 216 222 228 234 240 246 252 258 264 270 276 282 288 294 300 306 312 318 324
66 118 124 130 136 142 148 155 161 167 173 179 186 192 198 204 210 216 223 229 235 241 247 253 260 266 272 278 284 291 297 303 309 315 322 328 334
67 121 127 134 140 146 153 159 166 172 178 185 191 198 204 211 217 223 230 236 242 249 255 261 268 274 280 287 293 299 306 312 319 325 331 338 344
68 125 131 138 144 151 158 164 171 177 184 190 197 203 210 216 223 230 236 243 249 256 262 269 276 282 289 295 302 308 315 322 328 335 341 348 354
69 128 135 142 149 155 162 169 176 182 189 196 203 209 216 223 230 236 243 250 257 263 270 277 284 291 297 304 311 318 324 331 338 345 351 358 365
70 132 139 146 153 160 167 174 181 188 195 202 209 216 222 229 236 243 250 257 264 271 278 285 292 299 306 313 320 327 334 341 348 355 362 369 376
71 136 143 150 157 165 172 179 186 193 200 208 215 222 229 236 243 250 257 265 272 279 286 293 301 308 315 322 329 338 343 351 358 365 372 379 386
72 140 147 154 162 169 177 184 191 199 206 213 221 228 235 242 250 258 265 272 279 287 294 302 309 316 324 331 338 346 353 361 368 375 383 390 397
73 144 151 159 166 174 182 189 197 204 212 219 227 235 242 250 257 265 272 280 288 295 302 310 318 325 333 340 348 355 363 371 378 386 393 401 408
74 148 155 163 171 179 186 194 202 210 218 225 233 241 249 256 264 272 280 287 295 303 311 319 326 334 342 350 358 365 373 381 389 396 404 412 420
75 152 160 168 176 184 192 200 208 216 224 232 240 248 256 264 272 279 287 295 303 311 319 327 335 343 351 359 367 375 383 391 399 407 415 423 431
76 156 164 172 180 189 197 205 213 221 230 238 246 254 263 271 279 287 295 304 312 320 328 336 344 353 361 369 377 385 394 402 410 418 426 435 443

Source: Adapted from Clinical Guidelines on the Identification, Evaluation, and Treatment of Overweight and Obesity in Adults. The Evidence Report. NIH Publication No. 98–4083: National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute; 1998.

∧ Back to Top


Why do people gain weight?

Our bodies need calories (energy) to keep us alive and active. But to maintain weight we need to balance the energy we take in with the energy we use. When a person eats and drinks more calories than he or she burns, the energy balance tips toward weight gain, overweight, and obesity. The tipping point at which the calories coming in and the calories going out become out of balance and lead to weight gain may differ from one person to another.

∧ Back to Top


What other factors are involved?

Does my body shape matter?

Health care providers are concerned not only with how much body fat a person has, but where the fat is located on the body.

  • Women tend to collect fat in their hips and buttocks, giving them a "pear" shape.
  • Men usually build up fat around their bellies, giving them more of an "apple" shape.
  • Of course, some men are pear-shaped and some women are apple-shaped, especially after menopause.

Extra fat around your midsection may put you at greater risk for type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and other health problems—even if you have a normal weight. Your provider can help you assess your risk.

Your genes, the world around you, and other factors may all affect weight gain. Learn how to address these factors in the section "How can I improve my health?"

Family

Research shows that obesity tends to run in families, suggesting that genes may contribute to obesity. Families also share diet and lifestyle habits that may affect weight. However, it is possible to manage your weight even if obesity is common in your family.

The World around You

Where people live, play, and work may also strongly affect their weight. Consider the fact that obesity rates were lower 30 years ago. Since that time, our genetic make-up hasn't changed, but our world has.

The world around us affects access to healthy foods and places to walk and be active in many ways:

  • Many people drive rather than walk.
  • Living in areas without sidewalks or safe places to exercise may make it tough to be more active.
  • Many people eat out or get takeout instead of cooking, which may lead to eating more calories.
  • Most vending machines do not offer low-calorie, low-fat snacks.

Overweight and obesity affect people in all income ranges. But people who live in low-income areas may face even greater barriers to eating healthy foods and being active than other people. High-calorie processed foods often cost less than healthier options, such as fruits and vegetables. There also may be few safe, free, or low-cost places nearby to be active on a regular basis. These factors may contribute to weight gain.

Culture

A person's culture may also affect weight:

  • Some cultures have foods with a lot of fat or sugar, making it hard to manage weight.
  • Family events at which people eat large amounts of food may make it tough to control portions.

Sleep

Research suggests that lack of sleep is linked to overweight and obesity. Recent studies have found that sleeping less may make it harder to lose weight. In these studies, adults who were trying to lose weight and who slept less ate more calories and snacked more.

For more on how obesity and sleep are related, see the Resources section at the end of this fact sheet for a link to the WIN fact sheet Do You Know Some of the Health Risks of Being Overweight?

Medicine

Certain drugs may cause weight gain. Steroids and some drugs to treat depression or other mental health problems may make you burn calories more slowly or feel hungry. Be sure your health care provider knows all the medicines you are taking (including over-the-counter drugs and dietary supplements). He or she may suggest another medicine that has less effect on weight.

∧ Back to Top


What problems are linked to excess weight?

Weighing too much may increase the risk for several health problems. It also may contribute to emotional and social problems.

Health Risks

Type 2 diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke, kidney disease, and certain cancers are some of the diseases linked to excess weight. Obese men are more likely than other men to develop cancer of the colon, rectum, or prostate. Obese women are more likely than other women to develop cancer of the breast (after menopause), gallbladder, uterus, or cervix. Cancer of the esophagus (the tube that carries food and liquids to the stomach) may also be linked to obesity.

Other diseases and health problems linked to excess weight include

  • breathing problems, including sleep apnea
  • fatty liver disease (also called nonalcoholic steatohepatitis or NASH)1
  • gallbladder disease and gallstones
  • pregnancy problems, such as gestational diabetes (high blood sugar during pregnancy), high blood pressure, and increased risk for cesarean section (C-section)

Emotional and Social Effects

Excess weight may also contribute to emotional suffering. Physical beauty and how a person looks are highly valued in society. People who may not fit society's view of beauty because of their weight may be seen as less attractive.

Also, because some people in our culture may view a person with obesity as lacking willpower, people with obesity may face limited options in the job market, at school, and in social situations. They may feel rejected, ashamed, or depressed.

∧ Back to Top


Who should lose weight?

Health care providers generally agree that people who are considered to be obese (have a BMI of 30 or greater) may improve their health by losing weight.

If you are overweight (BMI between 25 and 29.9), experts recommend that you avoid gaining any extra weight. If you are overweight and have other risk factors (see below), losing weight may reduce these risks. Experts recommend you try to lose weight if you have two or more of the following:

  • Family history of certain chronic diseases. If you have close relatives who have had diseases such as heart disease or diabetes, you may be more likely to develop these problems.
  • Pre-existing medical problems. High blood pressure, high LDL (bad) cholesterol levels, low HDL (good) cholesterol levels, high triglycerides, and high blood sugar (prediabetes or diabetes) are all warning signs of some diseases linked to obesity.
  • Large waist size. Men who have waist sizes greater than 40 inches and women who have waist sizes greater than 35 inches are at higher risk of diabetes, unhealthy blood fats (high cholesterol and triglycerides), high blood pressure, and heart disease.

Fortunately, losing even a small amount of weight can help improve your health. This weight loss may lower your blood pressure and improve other risk factors.

For example, research shows that people at high risk for type 2 diabetes who lose a modest amount of weight and increase their physical activity may prevent or delay type 2 diabetes. For more information, see the listing in the Resources section for the National Diabetes Education Program.

∧ Back to Top


How are overweight and obesity treated?

The best way to control your weight may depend on how much excess weight you have, your overall health, and how ready you are to change your eating and physical activity habits. In some cases, if lifestyle changes do not lead to enough weight loss to improve your health, doctors may recommend additional treatment, including weight-loss drugs.

In some cases of extreme obesity, doctors may recommend bariatric surgery. For more information on bariatric surgery, see the WIN fact sheet Bariatric Surgery for Severe Obesity.

∧ Back to Top


How can I improve my health?

Although you cannot change your genes, you can work on changing your eating habits, levels of physical activity, and other factors. Try the ideas below.

Get regular physical activity

Try these tips for starting or maintaining an exercise program:

  • Get at least 150 minutes (2 ½ hours) of moderately intense aerobic activity each week that raises your heart rate and makes you sweat. Brisk walking, biking (with a helmet), swimming, and playing tennis or basketball are fun choices that you can do with others for support.
  • You can spread the 150 minutes out in short spurts over the week. Do house or yard chores briskly, walk the dog at a quick pace, or dance to your favorite music for at least 10 minutes at a time.
  • Aim for 300 minutes (5 hours) of aerobic activity a week to prevent gradual weight gain in adulthood. If you are at a healthy weight now but used to be overweight or obese, experts encourage 60 to 90 minutes of exercise a day to keep the weight off.

Most adults don't need to see their doctor before starting a physical activity program. However, those who should see a doctor include men older than 40 and women older than 50 who plan a vigorous program or who have either a serious health condition or risk factors for a serious health condition.

Eat better

Eating healthy foods has vital health benefits, too, including weight loss. To start eating better, try these tips:

  • Eat the rainbow. Make half of what's on your plate fruit and vegetables.
  • Replace refined grains with whole grains, like oatmeal, whole wheat bread, and brown rice.
  • Get your protein from healthy sources, like seafood, lean meats, poultry, eggs, beans, unsalted nuts, and seeds.
  • Instead of sugary drinks, choose unsweetened tea, low-fat milk, or water.

Remember, weight control is a lifelong effort. Starting now with small steps may improve your health. A healthy eating plan and regular physical activity can be steps to a healthier you.

∧ Back to Top


Resources

Research

The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK) conducts and supports a broad range of basic and clinical obesity research. More information about obesity research is available at http://www.obesityresearch.nih.govExit Disclaimer

Clinical trials are research studies involving people. Clinical trials look at safe and effective new ways to prevent, detect, or treat disease. Researchers also use clinical trials to look at other aspects of care, such as improving the quality of life for people with chronic illnesses. To learn more about clinical trials, why they matter, and how to participate, visit the NIH Clinical Research Trials and You website at http://www.nih.gov/health/clinicaltrialsExit Disclaimer For information about current studies, visit http://www.ClinicalTrials.govExit Disclaimer

Additional Reading from the Weight-control Information Network

For more information on topics related to healthy eating, barriers to physical activity, portion control, and eating and physical activity myths, refer to these WIN publications.

Additional Resources

∧ Back to Top


References

1 For more information on NASH, see the listing in the Resources section for the National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse.

The Weight-control Information Network (WIN) is a national information service of the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH). WIN provides the general public, health professionals, and the media with science-based, up-to-date, culturally relevant materials and tips. Topics include healthy eating, barriers to physical activity, portion control, and eating and physical activity myths.

Publications produced by WIN are carefully reviewed by both NIDDK scientists and outside experts. This fact sheet was also reviewed by Delia Smith West, Ph.D., Professor, University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences.

Inclusion of resources is for information only and does not imply endorsement by NIDDK or WIN.

This publication is not copyrighted. WIN encourages you to copy and share as many copies as desired.

You may also find additional information about this topic by visiting MedlinePlus at http://www.medlineplus.govExit Disclaimer

NIH Publication No. 06–3680
November 2008
Updated December 2012

top ∧


To contact WIN, call toll free 1–877–946–4627; fax: 202–828–1028; email: win@info.niddk.nih.gov;
or write Weight-control Information Network, 1 WIN Way, Bethesda, MD 20892–3665.

Last Modified: January 31, 2014

Home Publications Order WIN Notes Update Statistics Research Resources About WIN

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services National Institutes of Health/National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases USA.gov. Government Made Easy.

NIH…Turning Discovery Into Health ®

Privacy | Disclaimer | Copyright | Accessibility | Search NIDDK | Freedom of Information Act

PDF files require the free Adobe Acrobat Reader Exit Disclaimer. Microsoft Word documents require the free Word Viewer Exit Disclaimer. Microsoft Excel documents require the free Excel Viewer Exit Disclaimer.

This website is certified by Health On the Net Foundation. Click to verify.