If you’ve spotted the alarming headlines that claim almost 90% of men and 75% of women in the developed world are “overfat” you’re probably wondering what overfat means and how it’s different to being overweight or obese.
The simplest definition of being overfat is carrying too much body fat. Regardless of your overall weight, if your body fat percentage is too high, you are overfat, and that’s linked to a higher risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes. The risk is especially high if the excess fat is around your belly area – which it often is.
Being overweight or obese, on the other hand, refers to the Body Mass Index (BMI) categories which are based on height and weight. This can lead to people being labelled obese when in fact they are in cracking shape – any musclebound hunk will be too heavy for their height and considered unhealthy under BMI. You can also fall in a healthy BMI range and still carry dangerous levels of excess fat, for instance a tall person with a pot belly that’s otherwise skinny. That’s why we’ve got this new term – it’s a more useful individual measure of your health (BMI remains very useful for scientists working at the population level).
The new research that has pushed the term overfat into the limelight was published in the journal Frontiers of Public Health. It found that the percentage of people that are overfat in the developed world is distressingly high, with 86.6% of men in the UK considered overfat.
If you’re prodding at your stomach right now trying to work out if that’s you, a simple way to check if you are carrying too much fat around your midriff is the string test. Measure your height with a piece of string, then take that length, fold it in half and see if it’s long enough to go around your waist, keeping the string halfway between your hip bone and your lowest rib. If it isn’t long enough, then you are in the at risk group.
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Simpler still is to keep an eye on your waist circumference, something we covered during Men’s Health Week. Measure just below the belly button and if it’s over 94cm (37in) that’s bad and if it’s over 102cm (40in) you’re in the high risk zone.
If you want a more exact picture of the amount of fat in your entire body then you can measure your body fat percentage at home with callipers or smart scales, but the results can be a bit mixed in terms of accuracy.
A healthy body fat percentage for men aged 20-39 is generally considered to be between 8% and 20%, and for men aged 40-59 it’s 11%-22%. If you’re especially worried about your body fat percentage it might be worth looking into a more exact measurement than you can get at home through hydrostatic weighing or DEXA, although these methods can be expensive. It’s probably savvier to do the string test instead and put the money you saved towards a pair of running shoes or a gym membership.
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