Most people are concerned with maintaining a healthy weight, although few are able to do so. According to the Centers for Disease Control, more than one-third of the American population is obese. Obesity is defined as having a body mass index of more than 30. The “obesity epidemic” has been explain by experts as coming from various sources but these explanations have done little to curb the problem.

Excess body weight has been linked by the CDC to a variety of illness including heart disease, Type II diabetes, and certain types of cancer. It is very important for us to maintain a healthy body weight, but many of us still struggle with this concept and how to successfully implement it.

Many people do not even know what their body mass index or ideal weight should be. In fact, many people have unrealistic expectations about body weight that lead to discouragement when dieting and exercising. Here are a few facts about body weight that can help you set reasonable weight loss goals and monitor your health.

Healthy Body Weight Is Not Calculated Simply

Healthy body weight is a combination of factors. One reason “weight loss charts” have begun to fall out of favor is that they do not take into consideration all the factors that go into a healthy body weight. Most weight charts include only height and weight measurements and a range of “healthy weight” that is difficult to decipher. For example, according to one weight chart published by Health Check Systems, a woman of 5’7” in height could weigh anywhere from 123 to 163 pounds depending on her frame and still be considered healthy. This 40-pound differential is difficult to reconcile with the idea of “healthy weight.” Surely someone who is 40 pounds more than another person of the same height must be overweight?

It does not necessarily follow that because you weigh more than someone of your same height you are “unhealthy.” Muscle, for example, weighs more than fat, so a person with a muscular build will be likely to weigh more than a “soft” person of the same height. Furthermore, body frame has a great deal to do with maintainable body weight. A large-framed woman of 5’7” will find it difficult to maintain a body weight of 123, while a girl with a petite frame may look heavy at 143.

Because height/weight charts can be so subjective and so difficult to interpret, doctors, personal trainers and others involved in weight management have turned to another form of body weight measurement known as the BMI.

What is BMI?

BMI stands for body mass index and is a different way of measuring healthy weight. Body mass index takes into account the ratio of fat to muscle and gives a reading on this percentage.

BMI is considered by many to be a superior measurement to weight, which can be thrown off by water retention, muscle building and other factors. A good BMI test measures the actual ratio of body fat to muscle and gives a number that transcends the pounds on the scale.

However, BMI must be used cautiously. Several websites have sprung up purporting to give instant BMI measurements for those concerned with their weight. The subject puts in height and weight and a BMI number pops out. The problem with this method is that a good BMI measurement takes other factors into account and cannot be done by simply entering height and weight. Better ways of measuring BMI include:

  • Calipers – measure the amount of fat under the skin at certain key spots on the body. This method is very useful as fat buildup in these areas is most often a sign of unhealthy weight gain.
  • Body-Fat Measuring Scales – use a harmless electric current to measure the ratio of body fat to muscle. They are not always accurate because they are very sensitive to the amount of water in your body.
  • Dual-energy X-Ray Absorpitometry (DEXA scanning)  – is a medical test for bone density that can also measure body fat. This method is highly accurate but is too expensive for everyday use and expose the body to low doses of radiation.
  • Hydrodensitometry Testing (Water Testing)  – is probably the most accurate method of finding true BMI. The subject goes into a tank of water and immerses himself or herself. The resulting water displacement is calculated and the BMI derived from this number. Because density is a much better method of measuring body composition than weight, this method is highly accurate. However, it is very inconvenient and many people find it frightening. There are also units that use air displacement to measure BMI; this provides a much less disturbing testing environment for the subject.
  • The Tape Measure Approach – If you are simply looking for a good way to measure your own obesity level, take a tape measure and wrap it around your belly button. If you are a male with a measurement higher than 40 or a female with a measurement higher than 35, you need to lose some weight no matter what your height or build. This test is based on the simple fact that “dangerous” fat tends to grow around the midsection.
    Measuring height, weight and body fat content can be eye-opening for some individuals.

You can gain valuable knowledge about your body and begin working on a healthier lifestyle involving a sound diet and regular exercise.