What Is Overfat? Studies Unveil New Path to Weight Management

Health Writer

As you contemplate a New Year’s resolution, it’s crucial to “be real” when it comes to assessing your weight and your goals. It can mean everything to your future resolutions. And if you’re carrying extra weight, it’s important to remember that you’re not alone: A study published in the journal Frontiers in Public Health in January 2017 suggests that 76 percent of the world’s population, or 3.5 billion people, are “overfat.”

To get a sense of just how dramatic this statistic is, the researchers in the study created a chart with the following data:

What does “overfat” mean in the context of terms like overweight or obese? The researchers suggest that the term overfat is a condition in which a person has enough excess body fat to impair health.This term also includes people who fall into what we might consider normal weight but who have increased risk factors for chronic disease because they carry too much fat in the abdominal region (normal weight metabolic obesity). Also in this group are ** TOFI’s** – individuals classified as thin on the outside but with fat accumulations that are invisible on the inside, usually wrapped around organs.

Using body mass index (BMI) to isolate overweight or obese individuals can miss people who have large waist measurements, while having a normal height to weight ratio. BMI can also clearly miss people classified as TOFI’s. Getting an accurate BMI can also be challenging because there are different ways to measure BMI.

The researchers in this study feel that the blanket adoption of BMI as the standard to measure adiposity levels is sorely lacking. According to current World Health Organization statistics, 40 percent of the world’s population is overweight or obese, while in the U.S., 66 percent fall into the overweight/obese classification. Many, many more people would meet the criteria for overfat.

The researchers acknowledge that using waist measurement as a guide for assessing excess fat helps to include many normal weight people who carry excess fat in the central area of their body. This fat has been linked to increased risk of prediabetes, diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and other chronic diseases. Waist size still misses those with internal fat stores.

The researchers involved in the study were intent on casting light on the people who might not be classified as obese, but who have unhealthy levels of fat. Far more people, they found, fall into this worrisome classification, compared to the overweight or obese. They also point to the fact that the numbers of underfat individuals (often associated with starvation), are dwindling rapidly. And the “new underfat” are more likely to be individuals who suffer with an eating disorder like anorexia, the chronically ill, and people who exercise obsessively, or** anorexia athletica.**

It should alarm public health officials worldwide that only 14 percent of the worldwide population has normal body fat levels. According to researchers in this study, the world at large should be far more focused on overfat individuals. The term or classification of overfat, when compared to overweight or obese, might be more helpful in identifying this worldwide epidemic and global health issue. Overfat is descriptive and understandable, and might help the general public to have a clear understanding of the pandemic condition and its health implications.

Are you overfat? The following individuals would fall into this classification:

  • Adults who are overweight and obese
  • Metabolically obese, normal weight individuals (known as MONW’s)
  • Individuals with enough stores of fat that it impairs health, which is sometimes called normal-weight obesity
  • Individuals diagnosed with sarcopenic (muscle-wasting) obesity

Children who are overweight, obese, or who have “large waist” measurements for height and weight would also be considered in this overfat classification. As of 2014, this group may include as many as 14 to 22 percent of children worldwide.

The problem that may arise with this new “well-intentioned” term is that obesity experts have been working hard to limit use of the word fat in order to be more clinical. The recent effort to classify obesity as an actual disease was a move to limit use of fat terminology. The reality is that whatever terminology we use, there is a pandemic involving excess fat that is robbing children and adults of quality of life and expected longevity. Whatever we call it, we need to intercept it!

Some quick recommendations:

  • Have an assessment of your weight, BMI, and waist measurement.
  • Have a physical and bloodwork to determine if you already have strong risk of disease or disease present.
  • Assemble a team that can help you to shed the excess fat. That team should include your doctor or an obesity expert, a dietician or nutritionist, a personal trainer, a psychologist, and a support group.
  • If a full team is not possible, try to find an eating and exercise program that is practical, affordable, manageable, and sustainable.
  • Set reasonable goals so you avoid another round of yo-yo dieting.
  • Use the many resources we offer on HealthCentral for diet, exercise, and behavior change recommendations.

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Amy Hendel, also known as The HealthGal, is a Physician Assistant, nutritionist and fitness expert. As a health media personality, she's been reporting and blogging on lifestyle issues and health news for over 20 years. Author of The 4 Habits of Healthy Families, her website offers daily health reports, links to her blogs, and a library of lifestyle video segments.