Body mass index

The number of people in the United States who are overweight has increased over the last two decades. Current estimates are that approximately one quarter to one third of adults and one quarter of children and teenagers in the United States are overweight. Obesity is a primary causal factor in a wide range of serious diseases including heart disease, stroke, and some types of cancer. It also tends to raise your blood pressure and cholesterol levels, and makes you more likely to develop diabetes. Hence, obesity is one of the most significant preventable causes of death and disability among adults. As a result, the government has set the health goal of no more than 20 percent of adults and 15 percent of teenagers to be obese by the year 2000.


People become overweight when they take in more calories than they burn. The rate at which people burn calories is determined by a number of factors including their: 1) genetics, 2) amount of exercise and physical activity, and 3) relative amount of body fat and muscle.

The most common way to decide if someone is overweight is by using the Body Mass Index (BMI). Your BMI looks at how much you should weigh based on your height. Experts used to think that people could have a higher BMI as they got older and still be healthy. Now, most sources will tell you that it is better not to put on extra pounds as you grow older.

Although experts don’t always agree on desirable ranges for BMI, it is clear that health risks tend to increase as BMI increases. Note that BMI only measures whether people are overweight, not necessarily whether they are „overfat.” Some people, e.g., football players may be overweight based on BMI, but because they have a great deal of muscle, not really excess fat. However, for most people, BMI provides a pretty good indication of degree of excess fat. Your doctor is in the best position to tell you how much weight you need to lose, if any.

What is a healthy weight for you? There is no perfect answer to this question. Researchers are always trying to come up with the best way to describe healthy weight. In the meantime, you can use the guidelines suggested below to help judge if your weight is healthy. See if your weight is in the appropriate range for your height. First calculate your BMI using the instructions below, then check to see where you fall on the height/weight table. If you check the BMI for some of the suggested weights on the height/weight table, you’ll notice that it usually recommends a BMI between 19 and 25. The BMI helps to determine these suggested ranges for weight.