Friday, 24 May 2013

Overweight and unhealthy: are they the same?

Marsha N. Woolery, Healthy Eating & Diet
Overweight is defined as a weight that is greater than that which is considered to be normal. But what is normal weight?
Calculation of healthy normal weight is based on one's height and frame size. For females, 100 pounds for the first five feet and five pounds is added for each additional inch. For males, 105 pounds for the first five feet and five pounds for each additional inch.
For small-framed persons, 10 per cent of calculated weight is subtracted, and for the person who is large framed, 10 per cent of calculated weight is added. If the person has a medium frame, the weight remains the same. Hence, the weight ranges for individuals with the same height on the commonly used weight tables (National Health and Nutrition Survey tables). For example, for a five-feet-five-inches female with a large frame, the recommended weight would be 137 and a half. Please note that no consideration is given to age, illness, or genetic makeup.
Body Mass Index (BMI) determines whether an individual is underweight, overweight, obese (level of obesity) or at a healthy weight. BMI looks at the relationship between a person's height and weight. An individual who is five-feet-five-inches tall and weighs 150 pounds is overweight. BMI does not take into consideration age, gender, body composition, illness or genetic makeup.
Human body make-up
The human body is made up of muscle, fat, water and bones. A person whose body has more muscle would have less water and fat, whereas, a person with more fat on the body would have more water and less muscle. This explains why when persons are on a weight-loss programme they tend to lose weight rapidly at first (water loss) and when on certain weight-loss programmes, diuretics (water pills) and/or certain fruits and vegetables are recommended to aid in weight loss through water loss.
Muscle weighs more than fat, therefore a muscular person may weigh more than a person with a lot of body fat with the same height. The BMI of the muscular individual would be higher and interpreted as being overweight or obese. This may be discouraging to persons who are trying to lose weight and, due to exercise, have started to build muscle.
Weight should not be the only determinant of one's physical health and fitness. The amount of fat, where on the body the fat is located and nutritional status should also be considered.
Research has shown that fat that is distributed around the waist increases the risk of developing heart disease - the number one cause of death in Jamaica - type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure. The World Health Organization (WHO) and Ministry of Health Jamaica recommend that waist measurement be no more 35 inches for men and 30 inches for women. This is a discouraging and seemingly unrealistic figure for most persons so I usually recommend that men aim at less than 40 inches and women less than 36, with a BMI as near to 24.9 as possible.
The total amount of body fat can be measured using calipers and bioelectrical impedance analysis. The amount of fat on the body depends on age, gender and physical activity. Women, by nature, have more body fat than men and, as we get older, the body accumulates more fat (old-age fat).
How much body fat is healthy? Body fat should be 10-16 per cent for males, 21-30 per cent for females and 6-20 per cent for athletes.
Tips for a healthy body include:
  • Exercise - have a structured programme that consists of aerobic and anaerobic activities for at least 30 minutes four days per week.
  • Choose foods that are low in fat, less animal products, more peas, beans, fresh whole fruit and vegetables, nuts and water.
  • Get adequate sleep.
To determine a healthy body, use a combination of waist measurement, BMI and skinfold tests or Bioelectrical impedance analysis (BIA) - to determine amount of body fat. To determine overall health, add results from blood-sugar tests, blood-pressure checks and lipid profile.
Being overweight does not mean there is too much fat on the body and, therefore, should not be used to determine one's health or fitness level. Stop using the eyes to discriminate and take a deeper look at what's going on inside the body.
Marsha N. Woolery is a registered dietitian/nutritionist in private practice and adjunct lecturer at Northern Caribbean University; email: