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What Does 'Healthy Weight' Really Mean?

December 09, 2016

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You’re probably aware of the importance of achieving and maintaining a healthy body weight, but you might be a little unclear as to what that really means. Contrary to popular belief, it’s not the same as being thin. In fact, it is even possible to be “skinny fat,” which means that little to no muscle mass misleadingly compensates for a high composition of body fat. Maintaining a healthy body weight, on the other hand, can reduce the risk of many health problems, as well as increase overall well-being. So, what’s the magic number?

As it turns out, there is none. For most people, body mass index (BMI) and waist circumference are good barometers, but even so, neither can be viewed in isolation. Instead, it is essential to take into account many lifestyle factors when determining whether your body weight falls within a healthy range. For instance, eating a nutritious, balanced diet reduces many health risks, as does staying physically active, not smoking, not drinking alcoholic beverages to excess and avoiding situations that that increase the likelihood of accidents and infections. With that said, here’s some general guidance on how to determine your own healthy body weight.

Body Mass Index

BMI is a simple, inexpensive and easy-to-use estimate of body fat. Based on height and weight, BMI is calculated by dividing an individual’s weight in pounds by his or her height in inches squared and then multiplying by a conversion factor of 703. The result is interpreted as follows:

  • Below 18.5 – Underweight
  • Between 18.5 and 24.9 – Healthy weight
  • Between 25.0 and 29.9 – Overweight
  • Above 30.0 – Obese

While useful for both men and women, the BMI scale does have some limitations. For instance, it tends to overestimate body fat in people who have very muscular builds. Likewise, it can underestimate body fat in individuals who have lost significant muscle mass due to aging or other reasons.

In general, as BMI increases, so do the risks of developing certain diseases, some of which are serious. These include heart disease, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, gallstones, sleep apnea and certain types of cancer.

Waist Circumference

Measuring waist circumference is an easy way to screen for some of the health risks associated with carrying excess body weight. Many experts believe that if fat tends to settle around the waist rather than the hips, this can indicate an elevated risk of developing heart disease and type 2 diabetes. In general, the risk level increases for women who have waist sizes that measure more than 35 inches, and for men who have waist sizes that measure more than 40 inches. To correctly measure your waist, stand and place a tape measure around your midsection, just above your hipbones, and exhale.

If you’d like to learn more about body weight and its potential effects on cancer risk, you can speak with an expert oncologist at Moffitt Cancer Center without a referral. To request an appointment, call 1-888-663-3488 or complete our new patient registration form online.