Obese vs. Overweight

What is the difference between obese vs. overweight? This article will help define overweight and obese, explain the body mass index (BMI), discuss treatment options for teens with weight issues, and list the dangers of being an overweight teen.


When talking about overweight teens, sometimes the terms “overweight” and “obese” are used interchangeably. However, in technical ways, both are different. And, in some cases, professionals don’t even use the term “obese” to describe children and teenagers.

Before we look at overweight and obese teens, though, it is important to understand what the body mass index is. The body mass index (BMI) is a measure of estimated body fat by taking into account height and weight. The idea is that there is a way to get the ratio of how much fat you are likely to have for you weight.

Body mass index (BMI)

BMI is figured by taking your weight and then dividing it by your height in inches squared. Then you multiply this number by 705. This means that if you are 5 feet, 6 inches tall, you would square the inches (66) for 4,356. So, 130 divided by 4,356 is 0.0298. That is multiplied by 705 for a BMI of 21.03. There are several BMI calculators online that can help you.

Unlike adults, who have a table that allows you to find your BMI and see if you are considered overweight or obese, teenagers are compared to the average for their peers. Additionally, factors such as body fat differences in girls and boys, as well as the fact that teenagers are still growing, are taken into account.

It is worth noting that BMI only offers an estimate. Athletes, which have more muscle, sometimes show a BMI that is higher, even though they don’t have the amount of fat that appears in the calculations. It is only meant as a general estimate. BMI should be used in conjunction with other measures and indicators.

Overweight or obese?

When determining treatment for weight related problems, the level of the problem must be determined. For overweight teens, this means the difference in what treatments are available for use. Teenagers who are obese can receive more dramatic treatments that those that are overweight.

     Overweight refers to a teenager that has a BMI that is between the 85th and 95th percentile of teens of the same gender and height. This means that a teenager is not considered overweight unless he or she has a BMI that is more than 85 percent of his or her peers.

     Obese refers to a teenager that has a BMI that exceeds 95 percent of his or her peers, in terms of gender and weight. This is considered extremely unhealthy.

However, because teenagers are always at varying stages of development, even when they are the same gender and height, true BMI is hard to figure for teenagers. This is why in some cases you might find that health professionals forego using “obese.” Instead, some refer to teenagers as “at risk for being overweight” and “overweight.”

Dangers of being an overweight teen

There are dangers associated with being an overweight teen. Some of these include:

  • Heart disease, and related problems. These related problems can include high blood pressure and high cholesterol as well. Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States, and being overweight is a major contributor.
  • Diabetes. This is an incurable disease. Many people who are overweight develop diabetes. Indeed, Type II diabetes, which is the kind that is developed at the teenage years or later, is often caused by being overweight. Regulating diet and exercise, and losing weight, can help you control diabetes.
  • Arthritis can develop as a result of the strain placed on joints as a result of being overweight.
  • Blount’s disease is one that affects children and teenagers. An overweight teen or child puts a lot of pressure on the lower legs, and can result in a bone deformity.
  • Breathing problems. Overweight teens may have asthma or sleep apnea. Both of these conditions, if they exist already, can be exacerbated by being overweight.
  • SCFE. This stands for slipped capital femoral epiphyses. This is a problem in which the hip joint is painfully damaged due to the amount of weight that has to be supported.
  • Ovary problems. In overweight teen girls, polycystic ovary syndrome can develop. This can cause problems like missed period, and increased testosterone. Additionally, this is something that can lead to Type II diabetes.

With teen obesity, the above health problems can be even more pronounced and troublesome. The more a teenager is overweight, the greater risk he or she has of developing serious - and possibly lifelong - health problems.

Related Article: Overweight Teen Statistics >>