Can you be overweight and still be healthy?

by Kelly Forness on September 5, 2012 · 0 comments

overweight and healthy

Many people believe that obesity (or being overweight) has a number of negative side effects to your health. This common believe is true and proven by various studies over the years. Even if you feel healthy don’t underestimate the importance of going to your normal weight since the extra pounds can be the cause for a number of diseases.

Obesity rates are increasing like an epidemic

Overweight is defined as a BMI of >25.  It has now become normal to be overweight or obese in the United States; in 2001, almost 65% of adults were considered either overweight, or obese.  More and more children are also becoming overweight.  Countries other than the United States, even those that never had weight issues, are starting to have higher rates of obesity.

These rates are increasing mostly because of the changing lifestyles.  More people are less active, and spend more time watching TV or playing video games.  Many people also have jobs where they sit at a desk in front of a computer all day.  Eating fast food or processed meals has become much more convenient as everyone is so busy.  Eating these foods is not only unhealthy, but leads to weight gain.

Being overweight has many health risks

Being overweight has many health risks such as diabetes, high blood pressure, stroke, high cholesterol, gallbladder disease, sleep disorders, certain types of cancer, and heart disease.  As people become overweight, or obese, they increase their chances of getting these diseases, and even increase their chance of death.

The good news is that by losing 5-10% of your body weight, you can decrease your chances of developing these health risks considerably.

So, obviously it is not good to be overweight, but can you be overweight and still healthy?

A study, published in The Journal of the American Medical Association, looked at the relationship between obesity and physical fitness with Coronary Artery Disease (CAD).  The measurements of obesity used were BMI, waist circumference, waist-hip ratio, and waist-height ratio.

The subjects included 906 overweight and obese women who were 58+/-12 years.  The study found that overweight women had greater exposure to Coronary Artery Diseases, but BMI and abdominal measurements weren’t necessarily associated with CAD or cardiovascular disease.  On the other hand, those who were less physically active were more likely to have CAD risk factors or have CAD.

Another study, published in The New England Journal of Medicine, looked to see if increasing your physical activity level can counteract the risk of death from being overweight or obese.  The study looked at the association of BMI and physical activity with death.

The subjects included 116,564 non-smoking women who, at the beginning of the study, in 1976, were between the ages of 30 and 55.  After 24 years, 10,282 of the women had died, mostly because of cancer and heart disease, and some from other causes.  It was found that the mortality rates were greater among those with higher BMI’s.

The study concluded that being overweight or obese, whether you are physically active or not, predicted a higher risk of death.  It also found that increased physical activity is beneficial, but cannot remove the health risks associated with being overweight or obese.

Based on the information presented in these two studies, being overweight or obese does not necessarily mean that you are going to develop any diseases; but it also doesn’t mean that you aren’t.  Also, as long as you are overweight or obese, you will always have an increased chance of developing these diseases when compared to someone who is normal weight.  Increasing your physical activity will not eliminate the health risks as long as you are still overweight or obese.

BMI is not always a good indicator

BMI is not always the best way to tell if you are overweight, or not.  Some people who are in the underweight or normal weight category may still have too much body fat if they are physically inactive.

On the other hand, someone who weight trains heavily, may have a BMI that indicates obesity.  Sometimes having your body fat measured may be a better and more accurate way to assess if you are overweight, or not.  The most common methods are skinfold thickness measurements, bioelectrical impedance analysis, and underwater weighing.

So, what if you are overweight?

So, you are already overweight.  Maybe you have a normal blood pressure and normal cholesterol levels.  That does not mean that you are healthy.  And, even if you feel healthy, you still have a greater chance of developing any of the diseases listed above, than someone who is normal weight.

It is best not to take the chance.  Losing weight is not something that you should put off because that is increasing you chances of developing disease each day that you remain overweight or obese.

You may say that you are going to start your weight loss plan next week, and say the same thing the following week, and the following week after that.  Something can always get in the way.  You are probably very busy, but if you don’t start now, and you keep putting it off, you may gain more weight, increasing your chances of developing disease even more.  Ultimately developing one of the diseases could lead to death.  So, it is best to start your lifestyle change now.

What can you do to lose the weight?

According to the study in The New England Journal of Medicine, you will not decrease your chances of developing disease just by becoming more physically active.  So, while it is very important to make physical activity part of your weight loss plan, you also need to change your eating habits.

You should follow a healthy, well balanced diet, and try to avoid eating fast food and processed foods.  As stated by Kim Lyons (Biggest Loser trainer) in My No. 1 Weight-Loss Tip, “it is better to eat foods in their natural form rather than processed or diet food”.

You should figure out how many calories you should be eating to maintain your weight, and subtract 250-500 calories per day in order to lose 1-2 pounds per week.

Doing physical activity on top of this, will help you lose more weight.  You should keep this up, and if you have a bad day, and eat something you know you shouldn’t be eating, don’t wait until the next week to start again.  Go back to eating healthy and exercising the next day.  This isn’t just a temporary thing; it is your new way of living.  Hopefully, you will find that by eating well and exercising, you will feel so much better.

References used in this article

Kelly Forness
About the author

Kelly is a registered Dietetic Technician. She has a Master’s degree in Exercise Science and Health Promotion and she is also a NASM certified personal trainer. You can connect with her on Google+

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