What is Obesity

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Obesity may be simply defined as the degree of body fat storage associated with elevated health risks (1). Due to the difficulties of measuring body fat under field conditions the practical definition of obesity for adults is based on body mass index (BMI) (1). It should be noted that adult BMI cutpoints are not considered appropriate for children. Body mass index, also known as Quetelet's index, is calculated as an individual's weight (kg)/height2 (m2).

Various cut-points and measures of obesity have been used in the past, but a World Health Organization (WHO) consultation on obesity proposed a system of classification based on BMI (1) (Table 24.1), which is similar to classifications used in a number of past studies.

International Textbook of Obesity. Edited by Per Bjorntorp. © 2001 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

Table 24.1 BMI classification in adults


BMI kg/m2)

Risk of comorbities


< 18.5

Low (but increased risk of

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