Overweight and Obesity
Overweight and Obesity

Overweight and Obesity Symptoms and Diagnosis

There are no specific symptoms of overweight and obesity. Your healthcare provider may diagnose overweight and obesity based on your medical history and high body mass index (BMI). Your provider may also order tests to rule out other medical conditions.

Body mass index

Your BMI is a measure of body fat based on your weight and height. It is important to know that body mass index is a screening tool and does not necessarily diagnose body fatness. Other related measures, such as waist circumference, are used to evaluate a person’s health and risk of overweight and obesity.

To calculate your BMI, use NHLBI’s BMI calculator.

BMI categories for adults

For adults:

  • Underweight is a BMI of less than 18.5
  • Healthy weight is a BMI of 18.5 to 24.9
  • Overweight is a BMI of 25 to 29.9
  • Obesity is a BMI of 30 or above

BMI categories for children

For children, height and weight are shown in percentiles. A child’s BMI percentile is calculated by comparing the child’s BMI to growth charts for children who are the same age and sex.

To learn your child’s percentile, use the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s BMI percentile calculator for children and teens.

  • Underweight is a BMI below the 5th percentile.
  • Healthy weight is a BMI between the 5th and the 85th percentile.
  • Overweight is a BMI between the 85th percentile and the 95th percentile.
  • Obesity is a BMI in or above the 95th percentile.

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends that providers screen for obesity in children beginning at age 6.

Unhealthy body fat distribution

To better understand the health risks that overweight and obesity may pose to a specific person providers can measure the person’s distribution of body fat. You may have a normal BMI but if you have a large waist circumference, you may have more fat in your abdomen than elsewhere.

  • For men, an unhealthy waist circumference is greater than 40 inches.
  • For women, an unhealthy waist circumference is greater than 35 inches.

Fatty tissue is found in different parts of your body. Fatty tissue produces hormones , cushions your joints, and stores energy.

However, depending on where the fatty tissue is found, it may do more harm than good. Fatty tissue found inside your abdomen is called visceral or abdominal fat. We do not know what causes the body to create and store visceral fat. But we do know that this type of fat interferes with your body’s endocrine and immune systems. It also promotes inflammation and contributes to obesity-related complications, including heart disease and diabetes.

Talk to your healthcare provider about your BMI results and body fat distribution and what steps you may need to take to reach a healthy weight.

Testing for causes of overweight and obesity

Sometimes other medical conditions or medicines that you take may lead to overweight and obesity. These conditions or medicines may disrupt the delicate balance of hormones that control how we use and store energy. Your provider may order blood tests to rule out one of these conditions.

  • Cushing’s syndrome is a disorder that happens when your body makes too much of the stress hormone cortisol.
  • Hypothyroidism is a condition in which your body does not produce enough thyroid hormone. This slows down your body’s use of energy (food), called metabolism.
  • Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a condition that affects the ovaries and results in hormone imbalance. PCOS can also be ruled out using ultrasound, a test where sound waves are used to create images of organs.

Talk with your provider if you start gaining or losing weight when you take prescribed medicines.

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