New Study: “Overfat” Has Reached Pandemic Proportions

Published in September Issue             

At the start of 2017, researchers introduced a novel term – “overfat” – to describe a condition they estimate affects between 62% and 76% of the world’s population, which they say makes it a global pandemic that, “well exceeds that of obesity and overweight.”

Overfat refers to the presence of excess body fat that can impair health, whether they have obesity or not – generally when a person’s waist measure is more than half his or her height.

Now, a new study published in the journal Frontiers in Public Health by these same researchers finds the prevalence of adults and children who meet the criteria for overfat in the top 30 industrialized countries outnumbers all of the obese and overweight people in the world. They estimate that 90 percent of the men and 50 percent of children in the United States, New Zealand, Greece and Iceland are overfat.

Even many physically active people in the United States, including professional athletes and U.S. military personnel, may be overfat, the researchers said in a news release. They also report a recent rise in the incidence of abdominal adiposity, what they call “the unhealthiest form of excess body fat.”

According to the study, being overfat is linked to insulin resistance and chronic inflammation and to hypertension, dyslipidemia, coronary heart disease, stroke, cancer, Type 2 diabetes, gallbladder disease, osteoarthritis and gout, pulmonary diseases, sleep apnea, and other diseases and conditions. Individuals also suffer from a lower quality of life.

Philip Maffetone, Ivan Rivera-Dominguez and Paul B. Laursen, the researchers who came up with the term, say overfat “more accurately encapsulates” associations between body fat and poor health compared to body mass index (BMI), which “has limited relevance for assessing accurate markers of body composition and body fat distribution, which are important signs of metabolic health.”

The study authors claim the reliance on BMI for the determination of being overweight or obese may misclassify up to 50 percent or more of patients with excess body fat who may have increased health risks. They say a better way to determine whether someone is overfat is to take a measure of the waistline (at the level of the belly button) and compare it to the person’s height. The waist measure should be less than half a person’s height.

Using standard BMI measures, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimate that more than one-third (36.5%) of U.S. adults have obesity. When combined with the number of adults age 20 years and over who are overweight (37.9%), the total prevalence for both conditions is nearly 71 percent.