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What Is Body Habitus?

Ectomorphic, or underweight.
Mesomorphic, or normal weight.
Endomorphic, or overweight.
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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 07 October 2014
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Body habitus, or simply habitus, is a medical term for “physique” or “body type.” A wide range of factors can determine body type, and medical professionals often make a note of a patient's habitus on his or her chart as part of a general reference to provide information about the patient's history. Some studies also suggest that certain extremes in physique can be indicators of disease or may lead to certain illnesses.

There are three terms commonly used in reference to body habitus. A patient with an ectomorphic body type is said to be underweight, a patient with a mesomorphic body type is of normal weight, and a patient with an endomorphic body type is overweight. The thresholds of “underweight,” “normal,” and “overweight” have been adjusted on many occasions, and there is some conflict in the medical community about where the dividing lines should fall.

In terms of weight, a number of factors can influence physique. Genetics plays an important role, as do issues such as the balance of neurotransmitters in the brain, a person's level of activity, and their diet. While the news media often suggests that being extremely under or overweight can be dangerous, in-depth scientific research indicates that the situation is actually not this simplistic, and that while weight can play a role in health, weight and health are not directly correlated.

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Other terms used in reference to body habitus may describe features such as musculature or strength, along with other characteristics of interest. As a general rule, any change in the physique can be a cause for concern. Many diseases cause patients to gain or lose weight, making changes in body size an indicator that a patient is experiencing a problem; AIDS, for example, is closely associated with emaciation. Patients may also embark on activities which change their body shape, such as when a patient becomes more athletic and develops increased musculature.

Many medications can induce changes in the body, especially if used in the long term. Steroids, for example, are infamous for causing a variety of changes. While these drugs are often associated with attempts to increase strength and musculature, they are also used in the treatment of a wide range of diseases. People who have taken steroids long-term for any reason often develop tell-tale physical signs, such as a distinctive “buffalo hump” on the upper back. Other medications can lead to decreased musculature, weight gain, and changes in the distribution of fat on the body.

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anon954769
Post 5

I agree with Acracadabra. You can assess a PT's habitus, by not only strict height and weight, but also where the fat is located and any testosterone influences, such as apple shape, chin hair, discoloration of inner thighs, etc.

Acracadabra
Post 4

I was just at a general knowledge quiz event and one of the quesions was 'what are the types of body habitus?' Nobody on our team could get the answer, and I was itching to get to Wisegeek and check it out. Thanks for the clear explanation. If this comes up again I'll be ready for it!

Penzance356
Post 3

@Potterspop - I agree that stereotypes based on body shape are not always helpful, but there's probably a higher risk of certain health problems. I think it's a good idea if body habitus types are used to teach us about preventative health. Just so long as those with less weight to carry are not overlooked in the fight against flab!

Potterspop
Post 2

@lovelife - I am going to guess that it is the people with a large body habitus who are considered to be high risk. The problem I have with this kind of categorization is that it can lead to false impressions.

When I studied psychology I read research papers which showed there is a strong connection between body shapes and assumptions about personality and lifestyle. Not all overweight people eat badly or are lazy!

lovelife
Post 1

I work with clients all day in the health and wellness field. We look at a persons' body habitus to tell us a lot of different things about their health history and their lifestyle habits. We can almost always tell if someone is pre-diabetic or resistant to insulin by their habitus. It is so interesting to me because this is one area that we can look at in the medical field to determine risk factor for several diseases. Not only that, but it is almost always something we can change with work and determination.

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