The Different Types Of Obesity

Mature overweight man sitting in armchair
“The only people who are obsessed with food are anorexics and the morbidly obese.” —Stephen Fry

In A Nutshell

Obesity is on the rise, and there are almost as many diet and exercise choices as there are ways of packing on the pounds. But a study led by Sheffield University is taking another route, and by determining the six different types of obesity, it’s allowing them to look at the larger picture of a person’s health. Obesity isn’t just about obesity: It’s about mental illness, it’s about lifestyle choices, and it’s about other chronic illnesses that are keeping a person from reaching their goals. Isolating which type a person belongs to—the heavy-drinking male, the young and healthy female, the sick but happy elderly, the affluent elderly, the unhappy and anxious middle-aged, or the poor health group—can help people address all the factors that are causing their weight problems.

The Whole Bushel

It’s no secret that obesity is on the rise, becoming a potentially deadly first world problem. Scotland recently issued a warning to its citizens: Funeral directors are becoming more and more frequently faced with a problem. Their clients are too big to be cremated, and too big to be buried in the traditional way. In some cases, it’s been necessary to move a funeral to a place equipped with bigger facilities, cemeteries have started charging more for larger plots, and some have even been forced to order what they’re calling “American-style” caskets in order to fit the wider bodies.

There are as many different diets as there are people struggling with their weight. A study led by Sheffield University has suggested that the people who are saying there isn’t one type of diet that’s right for everyone are absolutely correct—largely because they’ve determined there are different types of obesity.

Generally, obesity has been judged by body mass index (BMI). Anyone with a BMI of 30 or more is classified as obese. The study looked further into the individuals, though, looking at more than 4,000 people between 16 and 85 years old. They included factors that aren’t reflected in BMI, like chronic health issues (arthritis and depression, for example), and lifestyle choices like smoking and drinking.

They found there are six different types of obesity: affluent and healthy elderly, unhappy and anxious middle-aged, physically sick but happy elderly, healthy younger females, heavy-drinking males, and overall poor health.

The categories are labeled to define the type of person that falls into it. Those that fell into the affluent and healthy elderly category included those people that typically had high blood pressure and reported above-average alcohol consumption. The other “elderly” group, defined as the sick but happy group, had a number of chronic health problems but didn’t report mental illnesses like depression that were a major problem for others.

The heavy-drinking males category are those people who are obese because of their above-average alcohol consumption, along with a tendency to ignore weight management and do only a moderate amount of exercise. Young and healthy women were in a similar situation, although they tended to be more health-minded.

The unhappy and anxious middle-aged group was the group that was made up mostly of women who were at a stage in their lives where they were unhappy with their situation. They reported unhappiness, depression, anxiety, and chronic fatigue, along with a low sense of self-esteem and well-being, still heavy in spite of semi-regular exercise.

The last group is the one with the highest average BMI—those who are in poor health. Their health conditions don’t necessarily stem from their weight, but the two things are undoubtedly often connected. These are the people that have chronic health conditions and often reported being in regular, constant pain from one ailment or another.

The study is pretty groundbreaking, and it’s an acknowledgment that obesity doesn’t come in just one shape. The university researchers hope that defining the different types of obesity will help people to understand that there’s no one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to being healthy and that there are many underlying issues that need to be addressed in order to help a person find a healthier path in life.

For many, it’s not enough to just diet. In order to be successful, they’re hoping that awareness about the types of obesity will encourage people to look at changing not just what they eat, but how they live.

Show Me The Proof

The Guardian: Obesity affects six different types of people, researchers say
National Health Service: There are six different types of obesity, study argues
The Independent: Coffins of obese Scottish people are too big to be cremated