What Is Overweight?

Overweight is defined as the weight of a person being above normal. Overweight is characterised by excessive or extra weight, and is often considered unhealthy for the individual.

The extent to which a person is overweight is determined by body mass index (BMI). This is a measure of a person’s weight that takes their height into consideration and is calculated by taking a person’s weight in kilograms and dividing it by the square of a person’s height in metres. A person with a BMI of 25 or over is considered overweight.

Causes of Being Overweight

There are several factors that can cause a person to become overweight. Being overweight is typically caused by taking in more calories than are used by the body. Common causes that can contribute to being overweight include:

  • Poor nutrition
  • Overeating
  • Sedentary lifestyle
  • Lack of exercise
  • Genetic predisposition
  • Eating disorders (such as binge eating)
  • Alcoholism
  • Hormonal imbalances (underactive thyroid)
  • Withdrawal from stimulants
  • Quitting smoking
  • Stress
  • Sleep disorders
  • Having insulin dependent diabetes

Side Effects

There are several negative health effects that are a result of being overweight. Common health problems associated with overweight individuals can include:

  • High blood pressure
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Fatty liver disease
  • Kidney disease
  • Heart disease
  • Stroke
  • Certain cancers (including colon, liver, gallbladder, pancreatic, oesophageal)
  • Sleep apnoea
  • Osteoarthritis

People who are overweight also tend to experience more headaches and are more likely to develop anxiety, depression, and live with excessive amounts of stress.

Some of the respiratory effects associated with being overweight include: asthma, difficulty breathing, pulmonary embolism, and hypertension.

Being overweight can also be very taxing on an individual’s circulatory system. Aside from high blood pressure, a person may experience high cholesterol levels, poor circulation, swelling of the legs and ankles, blood clots, lymph node cancer, and heart failure.

Gastrointestinal problems a person may experience can cause several different side effects. These can include acid reflux disease, cirrhosis, gallstones, and several cancers that include gallbladder, colon, liver, and oesophageal.


Treatment for overweight individuals is typically dependent on the cause. There are several ways to treat being overweight including lifestyle changes, therapy, medication, and more.

Lifestyle Changes: Lifestyle changes for overweight individuals can include changing eating habits and consuming healthy, nutritious foods in moderation. Reducing the number of daily calories and getting regular exercise can both help a person lose weight. It is important that the individual maintains these lifestyle changes in order to sustain a healthy weight.

Psychotherapy: Certain therapies have also shown to be effective for individuals struggling with being overweight. Cognitive behavioural therapy for example, focuses on identifying the emotions and thoughts that accompany overeating and weight gain. It can also help an individual recognise the patterns that keep them from losing weight and help them form new habits that are conducive to weight loss.

Medicine: When lifestyle changes and psychotherapy aren’t enough to help a person maintain weight loss, certain medications may be prescribed. There are various medications that change the way the brain regulates the urge to eat. This can help decrease a person’s appetite and lead to weight loss. Certain stimulants, antidepressants, and medications designed to help supress appetite can also be used.

Medicine used for weight loss is not intended to be the only treatment. It is best for a person to use medication in conjunction with lifestyle changes and/or psychotherapy. It is important to understand that many of the medications taken for weight loss have side effects of their own. It is important to discuss all medications and possible side effects with a doctor prior to taking them.

Statistics on the British Overweight Problem

  • Overweight and obesity are the fifth leading cause of deaths worldwide.
  • Obesity has nearly doubled throughout the world since 1980.
  • There are over 2 million people worldwide who are overweight or obese.
  • Higher income women are less likely to be overweight than lower income women.
  • Egypt has the highest percentage of overweight adults. The US has the highest number of overweight children.
  • Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death amongst people who are overweight. Diabetes is the second-leading cause.

External Links

Health Risks of Being Overweight, NIDDK

Overweight and Obesity: Symptoms and Side Effects, BeHealthy

Healthy lifestyle changes, US Department of Health and Human Services

Obesity Facts & Figures: Useful Resources from the WHO Regional Office for Europe, EASO

More than 2 billion people are overweight or obese worldwide, says study, Robert Ferris, CNBC

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