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What Do You Mean I’m Obese?

All About the Body Mass Index

If you think you need to lose a few pounds, join the club. According to federal guidelines, more than half of all adult Americans are members.

Using body mass index (BMI), the National Institutes of Health (NIH) puts the definition of overweight at 25 to 29.9 BMI. A BMI of 30 and above qualifies a person as obese. A person with a BMI of 30 is about 30 pounds overweight, the equivalent of 221 pounds for a person who is 6 feet tall, or 186 pounds for someone who is 5-foot-6.

Even for those who don't need to lose weight, BMI is still important. The NIH urges all adults to determine their BMI, and, if normal, reassess their BMI every two years.

Why all the fuss about BMI?

As your BMI goes up, so does your risk for health problems, experts say. Your blood pressure goes up and so do your cholesterol levels. Obese men are more than twice as likely to have high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol, or both, compared with men who are of normal weight. Women who are obese are four times as likely to have either or both of those conditions, according to the NIH.

And the list goes on: Cardiovascular disease, stroke, sleep apnea, osteoarthritis and even certain cancers are more likely with more weight. Experts tally the cost of treating obesity-related diseases at $100 billion a year.

Diabetes also increases with increased weight. Cases of type 2 diabetes are rising rapidly in the United States, chiefly because of a rise in the number of overweight Americans.

But although BMI is useful in predicting health problems, it doesn't give the entire picture. A muscular person might have a BMI in the danger zone, but that person wouldn't necessarily be at increased risk.

So, doctors look at a patient's waist circumference and risk factors for diseases linked to obesity before advising the patient to lose weight. A waist circumference of 40 inches and over in men and 35 inches and over in women increases the risk of health problems, if the BMI is also in the overweight or obese category.

After you know your BMI, then what?

Unfortunately, nutrition experts say, if your BMI is higher than it should be, there's no instant cure. You still need to eat less and exercise more.

That same advice has been drilled into us for years. But have we listened? We are fatter than ever.

Medication is another approach, but those medications are just emerging from the laboratories. We don't really know the long-term effects of using weight-loss drugs.

NIH and other experts blame the growing heft of Americans on our love affair with food, as well as our couch potato lives. Where we used to have one car per family, we now drive two or three. We talk on cellular and portable phones and change TV channels by remote control. We steer riding lawn mowers around our yards.

And food is much more available than it ever was, with restaurants and delis in every shopping center or on every block. Food itself now comes in super sizes.

Getting people to change their lifestyle is the difficult part

People want a quick fix, not a long-term lifestyle change. Experts say that people need to take more responsibility for themselves.

Online Medical Reviewer: Lambert, J.G. M.D.
Online Medical Reviewer: Louise AkinLouise Akin RN BSN
Date Last Reviewed: 6/14/2008
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