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The prevalence of obesity in the United States has doubled in the past two decades and according to the World Health Organization (WHO) worldwide obesity has nearly tripled since 1975. Nearly one-third of adults are obese, that is, they have a body mass index (BMI ) of 30 or greater. In addition, over the last two decades, the prevalence of overweight among children and adolescents has increased substantially; it is estimated that as many as 16 percent of children and adolescents are overweight, representing a doubling of the rate among children and tripling of the rate among adolescents. A high prevalence of overweight and obesity is of great public health concern because excess body fat leads to a higher risk for premature death, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure (hypertension), dyslipidemia (unhealthy levels of one or more kinds of fat), cardiovascular (heart) disease, stroke, gall bladder disease, respiratory dysfunction, gout, osteoarthritis, and certain kinds of cancers.
Ideally, the goal for adults is to achieve and maintain a body weight that optimizes their health. However, for obese adults, losing even 10 pounds can lower blood pressure and have many health benefits, and the prevention of further weight gain is very important. For overweight children and adolescents, the goal is to slow the rate of weight gain while achieving normal growth and development. Maintaining a healthy weight throughout childhood may reduce the risk of becoming an overweight or obese adult. Eating fewer calories while increasing physical activity are the keys to controlling body weight. While overweight and obesity are currently significant public health issues, not all Americans need to lose weight. However, everyone CAN be healthier. People at a healthy weight should strive to maintain their weight, and underweight individuals may need to increase their weight.
Am I Overweight?
Two key measures are used to determine if someone is overweight. These are the body mass index, or BMI, and waist circumference.
BMI relates weight to height. It gives an approximation of total body fat — and that’s what increases the risk of obesity-related diseases. Overweight is defined as a BMI of 25 to 29.9; obesity is defined as a BMI equal to or more than 30.
Adult Body Mass Index (BMI) Chart
Your healthy body weight range is determined by your height and body frame. Use this chart below to find your healthy weight range. Find your height in the left-hand column, and then move across the weight. The number at the top of the column is your BMI.
BMI is a good indicator of total body fat, which is related to the risk of disease and death. The score is valid for both men and women but it does have some limits. The limits are:
- It may overestimate body fat in athletes and others who have a muscular build.
- It may underestimate body fat in older persons and others who have lost muscle mass.
That’s why waist measurement is often checked as well. Another reason is that too much body fat in the stomach area also increases disease risk. A waist measurement of more than 35 inches in women and more than 40 inches in men is considered high.
If you are 10% or more over your healthy body weight, it is much harder to control your blood pressure. Extra weight makes your heart have to work harder.
The only true way of ascertaining whether you have high blood pressure or not is by having it checked or monitored regularly using a home blood pressure monitor and tracking it with a blood pressure log. This is a painless procedure, and every adult should have their blood pressure checked regularly since your blood pressure can change over time. This way you are more likely to catch a change before it becomes dangerous. Ask your health care provider how often you need to check it.
Should I Lose Weight?
Losing weight is advised for persons who are considered obese (BMI higher than or equal to 30) or overweight (BMI of 25 to 29.9) and have two or more risk factors (please see below). You can reduce your chance of developing diseases linked to obesity by losing even a small amount of weight (between 5 and 10 percent of your present weight). The best course of action for overweight individuals who do not have a high waist measurement and have fewer than two risk factors is to prevent further weight gain rather than lose weight.
Consult your physician to determine whether you should lose weight and whether you are at an increased risk. Your health care provider will assess your waist measurement, BMI, and other heart disease risk factors.
You are more likely to develop heart disease and other diseases if you have any of the following conditions in addition to being overweight or obese:
- High blood pressure (hypertension)
- High LDL cholesterol (“bad” cholesterol)
- Low HDL cholesterol (“good” cholesterol)
- High triglycerides
- High blood glucose (sugar)
- Family history of premature heart disease
- Physical inactivity
- Cigarette smoking
How Can I Lose Weight?
There is no magic formula for weight loss. You must eat fewer calories than you burn. Just how many calories you burn daily depends on factors such as your body size and how physically active you are.
If you want to lose weight, here are some tips:
- Lose weight gradually. Fast weight loss and fad diets are very unhealthy. Unless your physician or health care provider says it’s OK, you should lose no more than 1 to 2 pounds a week. One pound equals to 3,500 calories. So, to lose 1 pound a week, you need to eat 500 calories a day less or burn 500 calories a day more than you usually do.
- Choose items from each of the food groups to make sure you are eating a well-balanced diet and getting all the different nutrients you need.
- Read food labels and choose foods that are lower in fat and calories.
- Ask your physician or dietitian to help you adjust the number of daily servings you eat from each of the food groups. Here’s a meal plan to help with this.
- Find a good cookbook that contains healthy, tasty, low-salt and added sugar recipes.
- Exercise more, if your physician says it’s OK. Regular exercise helps you lose weight and makes it easier to keep extra weight off.
Try starting with a weight loss of 10 percent of your current body weight over 6 months. This is the healthiest way to lose weight — and importantly — it offers the best chance of long term success.
The DASH eating plan is a healthy plan and can be made lower in calories for those who need to lose weight.