Overfat Pandemic

By January 3, 2017 April 24th, 2018 Fat-Burning Journal, Original Research

New research suggests 76 percent of the world’s population is overfat

Just in time for those making New Year’s resolutions, a new study suggests up to 76 percent of the world’s population is overfat. This amounts to an astonishing 5.5 billion people — and includes many people who regularly exercise.

The new study, published Jan 3, 2017 in the journal Frontiers of Public Health, describes a hidden pandemic of people who are overfat — defined as having sufficient excess body fat to impair health.

“The overfat pandemic has not spared those who exercise or even compete in sports,” says lead author of the study Dr. Philip Maffetone, who collaborated with research assistant Ivan Rivera, and Professor Paul Laursen, adjunct at the Auckland University of Technology in New Zealand.

In addition to most of those who are overweight and obese, others falling into the overfat category include normal-weight people with increased abdominal fat, and those with a condition called “normal-weight metabolic obesity” — with those who exercise regularly falling into one or more of these categories.

While the obesity epidemic has grown considerably over the last three to four decades, this study casts light on the much higher numbers of people who may have unhealthy levels of body fat.

In addition, 9 to 10 percent of the world population may be underfat. While we may think of this condition as being due to starvation, worldwide these numbers are actually dropping rapidly. However, an aging population, an increase in chronic disease and a rising number of excessive exercisers — those with anorexia athletica — are adding to the number of non-starving underfat individuals.

This leaves as little as 14 percent of the world’s population with normal body-fat percentage.

This is a global concern because of its strong association with rising chronic disease and climbing healthcare costs, affecting people of all ages and incomes.

The study also brings to light that new terminology — specifically the term “overfat” — is important to replace the old notions of “overweight” and “obese.” While it’s estimated that up to 49 percent of the world’s population, or 3.5 billion people, are obese or overweight, the well-documented obesity epidemic may merely be the tip of the overfat iceberg, the authors state.

The term overfat, as opposed to obesity and overweight, may be more helpful moving forward in addressing this global health problem. More precise terminology tends to have downstream positive effects on helping those in healthcare and the public to address the causes of excess body fat.

Other major points of the new research include:

  • The traditional body-mass index (BMI) measures the relationship between weight and height, but is not a direct measure of body fat.
  • Waist circumference may be a more practical solution than the bathroom scale for clinical identification of metabolic health issues.
  • This is the first study to globally quantify those who are overfat versus overweight/obese.

To read a copy of the journal article, click here.


  • Dan says:

    How is the condition of Underfat defined? Are there associated health risks there as well?

    • Hi Dan –

      The condition of Underfat is defined by us as little enough body fat to impair health. Currently we use the fat percentages for men and women– so 6% and 14% respectively. However, we put much more stock in actual health impairment as observed primarily through the appearance of symptoms, than in the actual percentage of fat, as everyone is slightly metabolically different. The risks are underproduction of thyroid hormone, and of showing starvation symptoms such as fatigue, cognitive problems, and others. Very long-term underfat, as is the case with many female models, can put the body in a state of metabolic inertia where it continues acting as if it is in mild starvation even when the diet has improved. This can often lead to runaway weight gain uncharacteristic of the calories eaten, and problems associated with it.

  • TruthHunter says:

    Ways to measure or estimate total body fat have changed the discussion in the athletic oriented weight loss community. The term “skinny fat” has come into common usage, denoting a person with a low lean body mass combined with a percentage of body fat above the normal range.(in many cases just aesthetic range) The emphasis has shifted away from mere weight loss to specific loss of body fat. Accurate measurement makes it possible to use strategies that maximize fat loss.

    The inadequacy of BMI is partly due to the availability of more accurate measures. Even the wildly inaccurate resistances based measure are more useful in measuring trends.

    An issue in the overfat epidemic is the pervasive use of industrial vegetable oils vs fat sources high in MCT’s. These are less readily metabolized and contribute to overfat in populations that are otherwise marginally nourished.

  • Dr. Phil says:

    While waist circumference is considered a better indication of body fat and health than BMI or weight, there is no scientific consensus on healthy ranges. Nor is there a consensus for normal ranges of percent body fat. Regarding waist circumference, race and gender differences exist (like with BMI), however these are mostly relevant to research and less practical for individuals. An important issue for individuals managing their health is that waist circumference can accurately be used to monitor changes—reductions or increases—in body fat. It is therefore less important to know ones exact percent body fat, which is also difficult to obtain by the average person, and without considerable expense considering that more than one evaluation is necessary for monitoring health. Instead, and based on scientific research and clinical experience, I recommend the high end of normal waist circumference to be 33 inches (84 cm) for women, and 38 inches (96 cm) for men.

    • S says:

      I have a waist circumference which falls into a high risk category. However I have managed to maintain it and not increase it with some slight exercise and diet. Would I still be at risk for health issues?

  • Ib Brønnum says:

    What is the criterieas to be in the normal fat group?

  • Carl says:

    What is the fat % that was used to define under fat, normal, and over fat?

    • Dr. Phil says:

      Body fat percentage cannot be used to determine these levels because there is no established norm for percent body fat. In addition, there is no standard testing method for determining accurate percent body fat. The various methods used have made the data less reliable. This is changing and we are ready to start gather accurate data on body fat (which will take time to evaluate). As a result, we used existing data described in the paper to scientifically estimate using ranges. We were also conservative in our estimations. Most important is the fact that excess body fat exists in many people who are not classified as obese or overweight.

    • Tom says:

      And more specifically, as an older male, body fat adjusted for age and sex. I am finding numbers over a very large range including suggestions that 15% is too low for someone in their late 50’s.

  • robert lipp says:

    hi Dr Phil

    So, New research suggests 76 percent of the world’s population is overfat.

    Can we therefore conclude that about 3/4’s of the world’s population is, to a greater or lessor degree, Insulin Resistant?
    Can we therefore conclude that ONLY about 1/4 of the world’s population is Insulin Sensitive?


  • Matt says:

    Too many occurrences of “new” in this: “Other major points of the new new research include:”

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