Who are the obese? A cluster analysis exploring subgroups of the obese

J Public Health (Oxf). 2016 Jun;38(2):258-64. doi: 10.1093/pubmed/fdv040. Epub 2015 Apr 18.


Background: Body mass index (BMI) can be used to group individuals in terms of their height and weight as obese. However, such a distinction fails to account for the variation within this group across other factors such as health, demographic and behavioural characteristics. The study aims to examine the existence of subgroups of obese individuals.

Methods: Data were taken from the Yorkshire Health Study (2010-12) including information on demographic, health and behavioural characteristics. Individuals with a BMI of ≥30 were included. A two-step cluster analysis was used to define groups of individuals who shared common characteristics.

Results: The cluster analysis found six distinct groups of individuals whose BMI was ≥30. These subgroups were heavy drinking males, young healthy females; the affluent and healthy elderly; the physically sick but happy elderly; the unhappy and anxious middle aged and a cluster with the poorest health.

Conclusions: It is important to account for the important heterogeneity within individuals who are obese. Interventions introduced by clinicians and policymakers should not target obese individuals as a whole but tailor strategies depending upon the subgroups that individuals belong to.

Keywords: body mass index; classification; cluster analysis; epidemiology; obesity.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Age Distribution
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Alcohol Drinking / epidemiology
  • Body Mass Index
  • Chronic Disease / epidemiology
  • Chronic Disease / psychology
  • Cluster Analysis
  • England / epidemiology
  • Female
  • Happiness
  • Health Behavior
  • Health Status*
  • Humans
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Obesity / epidemiology*
  • Obesity / psychology*
  • Risk Factors
  • Sex Distribution
  • Socioeconomic Factors
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Young Adult