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Using The BMI To Assess Your Health Status

Excess weight has a dramatic impact on one’s health. Obesity is the second leading cause of preventable death. Overweight and obesity are known risk factors for diabetes, heart disease, stroke, hypertension, arthritis, sleep apnea, and some forms of cancer (uterine, breast, colorectal, kidney, prostate, pancreatic and gallbladder).

Obesity is associated with stress, incontinence, menstrual irregularities, excess facial hair, increased surgical risk, and psychological disorders such as depression.

The most common medical assessment of obesity is the “body mass index.” or BMI. The BMI is a calculation of weight that takes height into account.

Epidemiological evidence supports the notion that the BMI associated with the lowest mortality falls within the range of 18.5–24.9, showing that thinner people live much longer (Baird 1994; Stevens 2000). The majority of adults in the United States are overweight (BMI over 25), with an increasing number being medically classified as obese (BMI over 30). Unfortunately, the trend is increasing. The prevalence of obesity in the United States has almost doubled compared to the year 1980 (NIH 1998; WHO 1998).

BMI Weight Status
Below 18.5 Underweight
18.5 - 24.9 Normal
25.0 - 29.9 Overweight
30.0 and Above Obese


A study published in the January 8, 2003 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association measured “years of life lost” due to people being overweight or obese. According to this study, the optimal BMI (associated with the greatest longevity) is approximately 23-25 for whites and 23-30 for blacks. This study made it strikingly clear that the higher BMI measurements significantly shorten lifespan.

In the January 7, 2003 issue of the Annals of Internal Medicine , a study documented large decreases in life expectancy in overweight and obese individuals. The American Heart Association commented on this study by stating that overweight people lose three years of life expectancy, while obese individuals die six to seven years prematurely. The authors of the study concluded that life expectancy seen in the obese are “similar to those seen with smoking”. (This study also showed that people who smoke and are obese die almost 14 years sooner than normal weight nonsmokers.)

Weight gain in adulthood is associated with significant increased mortality. In the Framingham Heart Study , the risk of death within 26 years increased by 1% for each extra pound increase in weight between the ages of 30 years and 42 years and by 2% between the ages of 50 years and 62 years (Solomon et al. 1997; Kopelman 2000). One study found that fat loss was associated with a decrease in mortality rate (Allison et al. 1999).

BMI is just one of many factors related to developing a chronic disease (such as heart disease, cancer, or diabetes). Other factors that may be important to look at when assessing your risk for chronic disease include:

  • Diet
  • Physical activity
  • Waist circumference
  • Blood pressure
  • Blood insulin, glucose, cholesterol, C-reactive protein, homocysteine, etc.
  • Family History of disease
Click here to find out how to lower your BMI



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