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Understanding Obesity: How Is Being Overweight And Obesity Diagnosed

Affinity Health, a leading provider of high-quality health coverage, provides insights into the typical methods used to identify whether someone is overweight or obese.


Obesity is a growing concern in South Africa,” says Murray Hewlett, CEO of Affinity Health.


“A study conducted by the South African Demographic and Health Survey in 2016 revealed the prevalence of overweight and obesity among adults in SA was estimated to be 68%, with around 28% classified as overweight and 40% as obese. Sadly, the World Obesity Federation anticipates an additional 10% increase (37%) in obesity among adults by 2030.”

Understanding the Diagnostic Criteria

Body Mass Index (BMI) is a number that compares a person’s weight to their height and is most often used to identify obesity. To determine a person’s BMI, a healthcare provider will:


  1. Use a scale to measure your weight in kilograms (kg).
  2. Use a measuring tape or a wall-mounted height rod to measure your height in metres (m).
  3. Divide your weight (in kilograms) by the square of your height (in metres).


The diagnostic criteria for obesity using BMI are as follows:

  • BMI Below 18.5: Underweight
  • BMI 18.5 to 24.9: Normal weight
  • BMI 25 to 29.9: Overweight
  • BMI 30 or higher: Obese
  • Childhood Obesity Diagnosis

Diagnosing obesity in children and adolescents follows a similar process, with some variations (considering age and gender).


The diagnostic criteria for children and teens are as follows:

  • BMI Percentile Below 5th Percentile: Underweight
  • BMI Percentile 5th to 84th Percentile: Normal weight
  • BMI Percentile 85th to 94th Percentile: Overweight
  • BMI Percentile 95th Percentile or Higher: Obese

Additional Assessments and Considerations

It’s important to note that BMI has some limitations. For example, it doesn’t consider muscle mass, bone density, or body fat distribution. Because of this, healthcare providers may also consider additional factors when diagnosing and evaluating obesity. These factors may include:


  1. Waist Circumference: Measuring the waist circumference can help assess body fat distribution. A higher risk of health problems tied to obesity is linked to having extra belly fat.


  1. Health History:Healthcare providers evaluate a patient’s medical history, including obesity-related conditions such as type 2 diabeteshypertensionheart disease, or sleep apnea.


  1. Lifestyle and Habits:Lifestyle factors, including diet, physical activity levels, and habits such as smoking and alcohol consumption, are considered when assessing obesity.


  1. Family History:A family history of obesity or related health conditions can increase an individual’s risk and may influence the diagnosis.


  1. Physical Examinations:Physical examinations may be performed by healthcare providers to examine overall health and look for indicators of obesity-related problems.


  1. Laboratory Tests:Blood tests may be ordered to measure cholesterol levelsblood glucose, and other markers that can provide insight into an individual’s metabolic health.


  1. Body Composition Analysis:In some cases, body composition analysis using methods like dual-energy x-ray absorptiometry (DXA) or bioelectrical impedance may be used to assess the proportion of lean body mass and body fat.

Why Early Diagnosis Matters

Early diagnosis of obesity is essential for several reasons:


  1. Preventing Health Complications: Obesity is linked to various health problems. Early diagnosis allows for interventions to prevent or manage complications.


  1. Promoting Healthy Lifestyle Changes:Early detection enables people and families to implement healthy lifestyle adjustments, such as eating a balanced diet and increasing physical exercise, to avoid further weight gain.


  1. Access to Support and Resources:Early diagnosis ensures that individuals can access healthcare providers, dietitians, and other professionals who can provide guidance, support, and resources for weight management.


  1. Improved Quality of Life:Early detection and treatment of obesity can improve physical health, mental well-being, and general quality of life.


  1. Reducing the Economic Burden:Obesity places a significant economic burden on healthcare systems. Early diagnosis and intervention can help reduce healthcare costs associated with obesity-related conditions.


“Understanding the diagnostic criteria and assessments for obesity is the first step toward effective management and improved health outcomes,” adds Hewlett.


“It’s essential for individuals to work closely with healthcare providers to develop personalised plans for weight management and overall well-being.”

About Affinity Health

Affinity Health is South Africa’s leading health coverage provider, offering you a range of options at affordable rates, including access to the widest national provider network. We understand the importance of having medical insurance that meets your needs, budget, and lifestyle. Our healthcare products are designed to protect you and your family when it matters the most. We strive to give our clients peace of mind and the highest standard of service. For more information, follow us on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram.

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