How can you know if you weigh “too much”? This question might arise when you notice your clothes don’t seem to fit — but if you’re asking because you’re concerned about your health, the answer can be a little more complicated.
For one thing, any standard that is used to characterize the health of entire populations inevitably runs up against biological individuality. What “health” looks like can vary, from the external to the fact that gut microbiomes can be as much as 90 percent different from person to person.
These days, the most common tool for assessing “healthy” weight is body mass index (BMI), calculated by dividing weight (in kg) by the square of height (in meters). By this measurement, “normal” weight ranges from 18.5 to 24.9. Anything higher is “overweight,” and a number over 30 signifies “obesity.”
BMI is a useful tool for researchers looking for associations between health problems and weight in large populations of people. Interestingly, the “normal” and “overweight” ranges are both associated with lower risk of death.
On the other hand, for an individual, BMI as a measurement has some problems. One is that it does not differentiate between weight from fat, muscle and bone. A muscle-bound athlete could have an “overweight” number, and a senior who had lost bone density and gained abdominal fat could retain a “normal” number.
Additionally, as Sabrina Strings, a sociology professor at UC Irvine, told the New York Times, BMI is based on patterns seen in white men and ignores relationships between weight and gender, race and ethnicity. “Women and people of color are largely not represented in many of these data,” she said.
An alternative to BMI is measuring the ratio between waist circumference and height. A measurement greater than 0.5 indicates there may well be an accumulation of abdominal fat that is associated with health risks.
Another measure is waist circumference alone. A waist circumference greater than 35 inches for women and more than 40 inches for men is one symptom of metabolic syndrome, a cluster of conditions that can increase risk for serious health problems. This measurement can be made in different ways, depending on your definition of “waist,” but, surprisingly, scientists who reviewed scores of studies concluded that the exact location of the measurement is not critical.
Whatever the measurement you choose to use, if you’re not happy with the number there are several things you can about it. eSavvyHealth offers numerous resources that can help you understand what makes fat accumulate and simple changes in your diet that can get things going in the direction you desire. You can find them here.