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Assessing Your Weight: Are You at Health Risk?

March 2013

Karen Ensle EdD, RD, FADA, CFCS
Family & Community Health Sciences Educator
Rutgers Cooperative Extension of Union County

When assessing your health risk, it is important to understand three key measures:

  • Body mass index (BMI)
  • Waist circumference
  • Risk factors for diseases and conditions associated with obesity

BMI is a useful measure of overweight and obesity for the general population. It is calculated from your height and weight and is an estimate of a person’s body fat and also a good gauge of risk for diseases such as heart disease, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, gallstones, breathing problems, and certain cancers.

The higher a person’s BMI, the higher the risk for these diseases. BMI does have some drawbacks, however, which include: overestimating body fat in athletes and others who have a muscular build and underestimating body fat in older persons and others who have lost muscle.

To find out your BMI to estimate your body fat go to: The BMI score that you receive means the following:
UnderweightBelow 18.5
Obesity30.0 and Above

Measuring waist circumference helps screen for possible health risks that come with overweight and obesity. 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. This risk goes up with a waist size that is greater than 35 inches for women or greater than 40 inches for men. To correctly measure your waist, stand and place a tape measure around your middle, just above your hipbones. Make sure you measure your waist just after you breathe out.

Figuring out your BMI and measuring your waist circumference provides you with an idea of whether you are at increased risk for developing obesity-associated diseases or conditions. Risk factors associated with obesity include: high blood pressure (hypertension), high LDL cholesterol ("bad" cholesterol), low HDL cholesterol ("good" cholesterol), high triglycerides, high blood glucose (sugar), family history of premature heart disease, lack of physical activity, and cigarette smoking.

For people who are considered obese (BMI greater than or equal to 30) or those who are overweight (BMI of 25 to 29.9) and have two or more risk factors, it is recommended that they lose weight. Try cutting back on portion sizes and making sure you eat a healthy plate each day.

Even a small weight loss (between 5 and 10 percent of your current weight) will help lower your risk of developing diseases associated with overweight. Talk to a registered dietitian and your doctor to see whether you should lose weight and follow a small steps approach to losing weight and keeping it off.