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People magazine 4/27/2009
Your Self chec Keeping Healthy Guide
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Being overweight is more serious than not just fitting into your clothes. The problem is so big that one goal of newly confirmed U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, MD, is to actively address the national obesity epidemic because the next generation of our children could die at a younger age if we don’t.
On a very basic level, being overweight is easy to figure out. To stay at a healthy weight, the number of calories you eat should equal the number of calories you burn. When you eat more calories than you burn, the leftover gets stored as fat.
The same goes for exercise. When you don’t exercise enough and spend too many non-working hours being sedentary, like watching TV or sitting behind a desk all day, it is not surprising that you might find yourself gaining weight. You may also find yourself at risk for type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular diseases.
Easy to say than to do, but if you exercised regularly and spent less time sitting, you would have the lowest odds of becoming obese. It’s also interesting to note that a combination of high physical activity and low leisure time sitting seems to protect us against becoming obese more than either behavior on its own.
Anti-obesity remedy: start moving now.
Carrying around excess weight isn’t just uncomfortable, it also poses a variety of very serious health threats.
Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). Your liver normally has some fat, but when more than 5 to 10 percent of its weight is fat, the condition is called a fatty liver or steatosis. NAFLD tends to develop in people who are overweight or obese or who have diabetes, high cholesterol or high triglycerides.
Heart disease. Traditional thinking attributes much of the heart disease seen in severely overweight people to other risk factors, such as diabetes and high blood pressure, both of which often affect people who are obese. However, recently researchers found that obese people without overt heart disease still experience silent cardiac damage that fuels their risk for heart failure in the future.
Shortened lifespan. According to Canada’s Research Institute of the McGill University Health Centre and McGill University, the life expectancy of people who are overweight or obese can be cut short by their extra pounds—people who are very obese could lose up to 8 years of life, people who are obese could lose up to 6 years, and people who are overweight could lose up to 3 years.
Infant mortality. Pregnant women who are overweight or obese may be putting their baby’s health at risk as well as their own. That’s why women are encouraged to lose any excess pregnancy weight before getting pregnant again.
Obesity-related cancers. You might not think of obesity as a cancer threat, but it is, particularly for women. Researchers estimate that 25 percent of all certain obesity-related cancers are attributable to the rise in BMI in the population over the last 20 years and could have been avoided.
Overweight and obesity are terms for ranges of weight above what’s considered healthy for your height. The terms also identify ranges of weight that have been shown to increase the likelihood of certain diseases and other health problems according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
- An adult who has a BMI between 25 and 29.9 is considered overweight.
- An adult who has a BMI of 30 or higher is considered obese.
- An adult who has a BMI over 35 is considered severely obese.
While BMI correlates with the amount of body fat in many people, it doesn’t directly measure body fat. As a result, well-muscled athletes could, on paper, have a BMI that identifies them as overweight even though they do not have excess body fat. However, a look in the mirror will tell you if your weight is from fat or dense muscle.
To see a table of BMI for a variety of heights and weights, go to: http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/educational/lose_wt/BMI/bmi_tbl.htm
Adults can input their height and weight and get their BMI instantly at: http://www.cdc.gov/healthyweight/assessing/bmi/adult_bmi/english_bmi_calculator/bmi_calculator.html
For children and teens, use the calculator at: http://nccd.cdc.gov/dnpabmi/Calculator.aspx
How To Assess Your Personal Health Risks
Your BMI doesn’t just indicate whether you’re overweight or obese. It’s also one way to assess the potential health risks associated with carrying excess pounds. Guidelines from NIH’s National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute recommend looking at two other predictors: your waist circumference and whether you have certain disease risk factors.
Waist circumference. Measuring waist circumference is important because abdominal fat is a predictor of risk for obesity-related diseases. If most of your fat is around your waist rather than at your hips, you’re at a higher risk for heart disease and type 2 diabetes and should be tested by your health care practitioner for both. To correctly measure your waist, stand and place a non-stretchable tape measure around your middle, just above your hipbones. Measure your waist just after you breathe out. Now measure your hips. See placement of tape in diagram.
Other disease risk factors. The cumulative effects of obesity and other factors put you at great risk for diseases and conditions associated with obesity, such as heart disease and NAFLD. These risk factors are:
- High blood pressure or hypertension
- High LDL (“bad”) cholesterol
- Low HDL (“good”) cholesterol
- High triglycerides
- High blood sugar
- Family history of premature heart disease
(Create a family history tree now)
- Physical inactivity
- Cigarette smoking
No matter what your BMI, if you weigh more than you should, talk to your doctor to see whether you’re at increased risk for diseases and whether you should lose weight.
Know that even a small weight loss—between 5 and 10 percent of your current weight—will help lower negative health risks. To learn more about losing weight click here.
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