Given how frequently it gets thrown around, the term "overweight" can be pretty confusing.
Over what weight? Who determines what a person is "supposed" to weigh, and how can that person possibly account for variables such as lean muscle mass?
These issues provided the incentive for a group of researchers to create the idea of "overfat." Characterized as "a condition of having sufficient excess body fat to impair health," overfat is a more accurate term for describing how body composition affects health.
The word was coined by Dr. Philip Maffetone, CEO of MAFF Fitness Pty Ltd (Sydney, Australia); Ivan Rivera-Dominguez, a research assistant at MAFF; and Paul B. Larsen, an adjunct professor at the Auckland University of Technology (New Zealand). They reviewed current data and scientific studies to estimate how much of the world's population can be categorized as overfat. It was the first effort to "globally quantify those who are overfat versus over-weight or obese." What they found is that not everyone who's been categorized as "overweight" is overfat and not everyone who's been classified as having a "normal weight" is exempt from being overfat. The team estimates that between 4.5 and 5.5 billion people worldwide (between 62 and 76% of the global population) are overfat.
"The overfat category includes normal-weight people with increased risk factors for chronic disease, such as high abdominal fat, and those with characteristics of a condition called normal-weight metabolic obesity," explains Maffetone. Normal-weight metabolic obesity refers to a condition in which someone who isn't technically "overweight" has enough excess body fat that they face the same risks as someone who is obese—including a higher risk of heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure and metabolic syndrome.
"We want to bring awareness of the rise in these risk factors, where the terms 'overfat' and 'underfat' describe new body composition states. We hope the terms will enter into common usage, to help create substantive improvements in world health," says Maffetone.
We hope so, too. "Overweight" and "obese" conditions are commonly diagnosed using Body Mass Index (BMI), an outdated measurement that doesn't account for variables such as body fat percentage, lean muscle mass or general body composition. It's based purely on height and weight. BMI is especially unfair to athletes, since super in-shape guys like Rob Gronkowski and Clay Matthews are technically classified as "obese" under the system.
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The "Down Under" research team also estimated that between 9 and 10% of the world population is "underfat," often as a result of old age, chronic disease or excessive exercise. That leaves just 14 to 28% of the world population classified as "normal fat."
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