“When it comes to long-term health, keeping your weight from creeping up on you is more important than the exact ratio of fats to carbohydrates or the types and amounts of antioxidants in your food. The lower and more stable your weight, the lower your chances of having or dying from a heart attack, stroke, or other type of cardiovascular disease; of developing high blood pressure, high cholesterol, or diabetes; of being diagnosed with post-menopausal breast cancer, cancer of the endometrium, colon, or kidney; or of being afflicted with some other chronic condition. Yes, it is possible to be too thin, as in the case of anorexia nervosa, but otherwise very few American adults fall into this category.”
-Dr. Walter Willett
Professor of Nutrition, Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health
To expand briefly on this, an important metric for determining whether you are overweight is calculating your body mass index (BMI). You can easily do this by pulling up a BMI calculator on Google and entering your height and weight, or by calculating it manually (see below). Generally speaking, a BMI from 25 to 30 is considered overweight, while that greater than 30 is considered obese. These classifications are derived from numerous population-based health studies that enroll hundreds of thousands of subjects and show an increased risk of dying early as BMI increases, mainly from heart disease and cancer. According to the USDA’s 2000 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, a healthy BMI is that between 18.5 and 25. However, don’t be misled by this “healthy range” as the cutoff is quite arbitrary. As can be seen in Figure 1 below, one’s risk of developing heart disease, type II diabetes, gallstones, and high blood pressure increases substantially (more than double) even as BMI increase from 18.5 to 25! The trend of greater disease with increasing BMI of course does not apply to really muscular body builders. But for everyone else, even those within the healthy BMI range, a tremendous health benefit can be realized by the loss of a few pounds.
I will use an additional piece of evidence to help reinforce the message of this blog. In two long-term population studies conducted at Harvard, middle-aged men and women who had gained between 11 and 22 pounds after age twenty were up to three times as likely to develop heart disease, high blood pressure, type II diabetes, and gallstones as their counterparts who gained fewer than 5 pounds. If you are someone who falls into the higher weight-gain category, the message isn’t that “you’re screwed.” Rather, it is a reminder that your weight is not simply a matter of appearance, it is in fact an extremely important determinant in whether or not you live a long and healthy life, and therefore should be monitored as such. Be sure to check back next week for the second most important thing you can do to improve your health!
*To calculate BMI, simply divide your weight in pounds by your height in inches, divide that number by your height in inches, and then multiply that number by 703.
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Shahir Masri, M.S.