Weigh Your Health

In the United States, overweight and obesity among all groups—particularly children and adolescents—have greatly increased over the past quarter century. Excess weight has become an epidemic, causing serious health problems for millions of people.

Obesity is the accumulation of excessive body fat. It is defined by a measure called “body mass index” or BMI. BMI is calculated using this equation: BMI = your weight in pounds divided by your height in inches squared, multiplied by 703.

It looks a bit complicated, but it is very easy if you use a calculator. For example, the calculation for a woman who is 5 feet, 2 inches tall (62 inches) and weighs 150 pounds is:  150 divided by 62 times 62 (3844), multiplied by 703. The result is a BMI of 27.4, which when compared with the numbers in the following chart, is considered to be overweight.

BMI value                 Weight

18.5 – 24.9                Normal
25 – 29.9                Overweight
30 – 39.9                   Obese
At or above 40       Morbidly obese

The many adverse effects of overweight and obesity on a person’s health include the following:

Mortality: Overweight and obesity greatly increase the risk of death.

Cardiovascular and Heart Disease: Overweight and obesity are associated with an increased risk of coronary heart disease (CHD) in women.

Hypertension and High Blood Pressure: Obesity, especially central obesity (excessive abdominal fat) is strongly linked with hypertension.

Dyslipidemia and High Cholesterol: Overweight and obesity are associated with an increase in total cholesterol, triglycerides, and LDL cholesterol (the “bad” cholesterol), and a decrease in HDL cholesterol (the “good” cholesterol).

Diabetes: Obesity is strongly associated with insulin resistance, which, when coupled with relative insulin deficiency, leads to the development of type II diabetes (non insulin dependent). While largely associated with adults in the past, obesity in young people has led to a dramatic increase in type II diabetes in that age group over the past two decades.

Respiratory: Obesity is clearly linked with obstructive sleep apnea.

Gastrointestinal: Increases in BMI are associated with increased risk for Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD), frequently called acid reflux.

Musculoskeletal: Obesity increases the development and progression of knee osteoarthritis.

Malignancy: In women, obesity is related to increased risk of breast cancer, endometrial cancer, ovarian cancer, and cervical cancer. In men, obesity is related to increased risk of colorectal cancer and prostate cancer.

One of the best ways in which to reduce the risk of developing these medical problems is to reduce weight by practicing a healthy lifestyle, including regular physical activity; a diet high in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and low in fat and red meats, and maintaining a healthy weight and BMI.

Lifestyle changes do not need to be dramatic. They may be as simple as buying fewer snacks, thinking twice before ordering a heavy meal, or parking your car a little further away in order to walk a few more steps. Your primary care physician or other health professional can help you develop a plan and monitor your progress. Think about this famous Chinese saying: “a journey of a thousand miles starts with the first step.”

Wooster Family Medicine