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Weight management

Overweight and Obesity

Worldwide obesity has more than doubled since 1980. How can overweight and obesity be reduced at individual level?

Overweight and obesity

Worldwide obesity¹ has more than doubled since 1980.  In 2014, more than 1.9 billion adults, 18 years and older, were overweight. 39% of adults aged 18 years and over were overweight in 2014, and 13% were obese. Most of the world's population live in countries where overweight and obesity kill more people than underweight (this includes all high-income and most middle-income countries).

Overweight and obesity are defined as abnormal or excessive fat accumulation that may impair health. Body mass index (BMI) is a simple index of weight-for-height that is commonly used to classify overweight and obesity in adults.  Raised BMI is a major risk factor for non-communicable diseases such as:

  • cardiovascular diseases (mainly heart disease and stroke), which were the leading cause of death in 2012;
  • diabetes;
  • musculoskeletal disorders (especially osteoarthritis - a highly disabling degenerative disease of the joints);
  • some cancers (endometrial, breast, and colon).

The risk for these non-communicable diseases increases, with an increase in BMI.


Reducing overweight and obesity

Overweight and obesity, as well as their related non-communicable diseases, are largely preventable¹. At the individual level, people can:

  • limit energy intake from total fats and sugars;
  • increase consumption of fruit and vegetables, as well as legumes, whole grains and nuts;
  • engage in regular physical activity (60 minutes a day for children and 150 minutes per week for adults).

Weight management

Frequent self-weighing seems to be a good predictor of moderate weight loss, less weight regain, or the avoidance of initial weight gain in adults²

Body composition monitors offers a more complete picture of your body’s condition than just the weight. A standard weighing scale will for instance  not necessarily display lower figures when you start exercising. This is because muscles weigh more than fat.

Body composition monitors

The most simple body composition monitors show BMI and body fat, more advanced models also show skeletal muscle, visceral fat or even resting metabolism. A quick introduction to the terminology:

  • BMI
  • Body Fat
  • Visceral Fat
  • Subcutaneous Fat
  • Skeletal Muscle
  • Resting Metabolism

BMI (Body Mass Index)

Body mass index (BMI) is a simple index of weight-for-height that is commonly used to classify overweight and obesity in adults. It is defined as a person's weight in kilograms divided by the square of his height in meters (kg/m2).
The WHO definition is:

  • a BMI greater than or equal to 25 is overweight
  • a BMI greater than or equal to 30 is obesity.

BMI should be considered a rough guide because it may not correspond to the same degree of fatness in different individuals.

Body Fat

Body fat percentage refers to the amount of body fat mass in regards to the total body weight expressed as a percentage.
Body fat percentage (%) = {Body fat mass (kg) / Body weight (kg)} × 100.
Depending on where fat is distributed in the body, it is classified as visceral fat or subcutaneous fat.

Visceral fat = fat surrounding internal organs

Too much visceral fat is thought to be closely linked to increased levels of fat in the bloodstream, which can lead to common diseases such as hyperlipidaemia and diabetes, which impairs the ability of insulin to transfer energy from the bloodstream and using it in cells. In order to prevent or improve conditions of common diseases, it is important to try and reduce visceral fat levels to an acceptable level. People with high visceral fat levels tend to have large stomachs. However, this is not always the case and high visceral fat levels can lead to metabolically obese. Metabolically obese (visceral obesity with normal weight) represents fat levels that are higher than average, even if a person’s weight is at or below the standard for their height.

Subcutaneous fat = fat below the skin

Subcutaneous fat not only accumulates around the stomach but also around the upper arms, hips and thighs, and can cause a distortion of the body's proportions. Although not directly linked to increased risk of disease, it is thought to increase pressure on the heart and other complications. Subcutaneous fat is not displayed in this unit, but is included in the body fat percentage.

Skeletal Muscle

Muscle is divided into two types, muscle in internal organs, such as the heart, and skeletal muscle attached to bones that is used to move the body. Skeletal muscle can be increased through exercise and other activity. Increasing the ratio of skeletal muscle means that body can burn energy more easily, which means that it is less likely to turn to fat, and makes it easier to lead an energetic lifestyle.

Resting Metabolism

Regardless of your activity level, a minimum level of caloric intake is required to sustain the body’s everyday functions. Known as the resting metabolism, this indicates how many calories you need to ingest in order to provide enough energy for your body to function.


1. WHO, Obesity and overweight, Fact sheet N°311, January 2015
2. Jeffrey J VanWormer et. al, The impact of regular self-weighing on weight management: a systematic literature review, International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity 2008, 5:54 doi:10.1186/1479-5868-5-54