Weight as a Metric of Health

Owing to quick feedback, it can be all too easy for us to believe that the number on the scale is the sole determinant of whether we are fit and healthy. And, while your Body Mass Index (BMI) can indicate if you are at an increased risk for diabetes, heart disease, cancers and breathing problems, is that really the most effective way to consider our health? In the last few years, many health professionals are learning that there is much more to living a healthy lifestyle then the digits on your scale.

First of all, scales, as a tool for tracking health, are inherently tricky because so many variables can impact the way that weight is calculated.

You should weigh yourself at the same time everyday so that the amount of food in your system is relatively consistent. Also, ensure that your scale is on a flat surface and that the initial reading is zero, or it may be out of balance. Beyond taking these actions to ensure accurate weigh-ins, certain foods can also skew the scale on a day-by-day basis; so don’t be too concerned if your weight fluctuates a bit each day.

The BMI has become the standard for health professionals and governments to assess whether an individual is healthy, overweight or obese. It uses a calculation based on a proportion of height and weight, but has received criticism for not taking into account body fat, muscle tone or bone mass.  In fact, many professional athletes would be labeled obese based solely on BMI, despite having low body fat and being otherwise fit.

Another part of the health equation considers waist circumference and body type. It has been demonstrated that individuals who store their fat predominantly around their midsections and trunk are more prone to type 2 diabetes and heart disease. There are ideal ranges based on gender for both waist circumference measurements and the waist-to-hip ratio. You can find these ranges and instructions on how to properly measure your waist here.

While these metrics can indicate health risks, new research illustrates that fitness is not necessarily linked to weight. The Journal of American Medicine performed a study that showed that fitness, as measured by performance on an inclined treadmill, was a better indicator of mortality risk than BMI. Furthermore, overweight individuals who could maintain activity on the treadmill had decreased risk factors for heart disease then thin participants who could not complete the treadmill test.

As with any aspect of your health, there is no one measurement that tells the whole story. You must take into consideration all of these metrics, along with lifestyle risk factors and family history before you can assess your overall health.

The posts on this blog are for information only, and are not intended to substitute for a doctor-patient or other healthcare professional-patient relationship nor do they constitute medical or healthcare advice of any kind. Any information in these posts should not be acted upon without consideration of primary source material and professional input from one's own healthcare professionals.