Overweight, Obesity, and Weight Control



Obesity is defined as having a body mass index (also called BMI) of 30 or above. This index is a measure of weight compared to height. Healthy weight is a BMI of less than 25. National experts estimate that about two-thirds, or every 2 out of 3, U.S. adults are overweight or obese. The incidence of obesity is much higher among African-American and Hispanic women than among Caucasian. By comparison, according to recent reports, the incidence of obesity is about the same in African-American and Caucasian men, and slightly higher in Hispanic men.

Nearly 50 percent of African-American, American Indian and Hispanic women are obese, and more and more increasing numbers of people in the U.S. are getting overweight or obese at increasingly younger ages. It is very important that obesity be prevented, and treated, because it is associated with excess death (or mortality) and a variety of serious diseases. The Obesity and Overweight Race & Ethnicity Tables in our Health Trends and Other Data section provide more detailed information.

Key Diseases Associated with Obesity:


hypertension (high blood pressure)
high blood cholesterol
heart disease
certain cancers

Although obesity increases one’s risk of developing the above and a number of other diseases, a lot can be done to avoid it, or decrease its severity.

Key Steps to Controlling One’s Weight:


  1. Understanding the “Energy Balance Equation” , and
  2. Adopting or continuing a lifestyle which makes this formula work for you.

The Energy Equation formula is: Energy In minus Energy Out = Energy Balance

About Energy (or Calories) In: In general, if a person takes in more calories (or energy) daily than they burn off, they will gain weight. A variety of Health Power Tip Sheets provide useful information related to food management and weight control.

About Energy (or Calories) Out: Regularly burning calories off is very important, and is done through physical activity or exercise.

About Being Consistent: Be sure to remember that it’s what we do daily about both of these lifestyles or practices, combined, which determines whether or not we are going to be overweight.

Body Mass Index (BMI)


The BMI is a single number which evaluates a person’s weight as compared to his or her height. It is generally used to indicate whether or not a person is developing, or already has, weight problems, and has a high relationship to how much body fat a person has.

The following mathematical formula is used to calculate the BMI:

A person’s body weight in kilograms (one kilogram = 2.2 pounds) is divided by his or her height squared.

Instead of having to do calculations, view the Body Mass Index Table on the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI) of the National Institutes of Health’s (NIH) web site. To use the table, a person finds his or her height in the left-hand column marked Height, then moves across the table until they reach their weight in pounds. Then, by looking at the top of the table where the BMI values are given, the place on the BMI scale where the height and weight meet is the person’s BMI.

Please also notice on the table that the BMIs are separated into the following four categories:

  • Normal weight (first white area)
  • Overweight (first gray area)
  • Obese (second white area)
  • Extreme obesity (second gray area)

Key Factors Contributing to Overweight and Obesity


  • Individual energy being out of balance over a long period of time. Two other ways of saying this are:
    1. When the number of calories taken in is more than the number of calories burned up, or
    2. When individuals have a general pattern of eating too many calories and not getting enough physical activity.
  • Individual Behavior – Choices related to food, cooking, eating, and activity (or lack of activity) have a great influence
  • Environment:
    • Being frequently exposed to attractive high calorie foods, especially those available at a reasonable cost such as fast foods
    • Having limited opportunities for physical activity, in and outside the home
  • Family History or genes
  • Metabolism (chemical reactions that occur in a living cell. They happen at different rates in different people.)
  • Culture – Different attitudes and beliefs about overweight and obesity in different racial and ethnic cultures
  • Socioeconomic Status –Low income groups are more likely to be overweight and obese. Generally, they experience more hurdles or barriers to both eating healthy, and having regular active physical activity, including understanding key controllable factors that contribute to overweight and obesity
Basic Approaches to Weight Control

It’s much easier to talk about weight control than to control one’s weight. In this web section on Basic Approaches to Weight Control, one can find information on:

Why and how to burn off calories

  • Key approaches to limiting calorie intake
  • Health Power Eating Healthy and Fitness Tip Sheets
  • Key choices for daily physical activity – at Work, at home and for recreation.
  • CDC recommendations
  • Information on the FDA’s Ban of Ephedra
  • “Ephedra Ban for Weight Loss and Body Building”
Preventing Childhood and Teen Overweight and Obesity

The term childhood obesity generally also includes teen obesity. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) 2003 comprehensive statement for pediatricians and adolescent care specialists in the journal Pediatrics also provides useful information for the general public. This web section onPreventing Childhood and Teen Overweight and Obesity summarizes key recommendations related to health supervision and policy development and advocacy issues. The published full statement has additional information regarding this challenging issue.

Useful tips on preventing childhood obesity can be found in Health Power’s Childhood Obesity Tip Sheet.

Obesity and Overweight Race & Ethnicity Tables

Overweight and obesity have become epidemic in most multicultural populations, and more often in women than men. Childhood and teen obesity are also increasing rapidly. Obesity and Overweight Race & Ethnicity Tables in our Health Trends and Other Data section show the severity of these conditions.

Recommended Sources for More Information on the Prevention and Control of Obesity:

  1. National Weight-Control Information Network (WIN) of the National Institutes of Health (NIH). This site is an online resource for information on obesity, its causes, and health risks, and provides measurement tools and a variety of publications on obesity.
  2. Office of Minority Health Resource Center (OMC RC).
 Both the WIN and OMC-RC web sites can be reached through Health Power’s Relevant Resource Table.