How Much Should You Weigh

Through the years, a number of charts have purported to lay out standard or healthy weights for adult Americans, but some set the figures so low that you can hardly get there without severely restricting your diet — or being born again with a different body, preferably with light bones and no curves.

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Studying weight charts

Table 3-4 is one moderate, eminently usable set of weight recommendations that originally appeared in the 1990 edition of Dietary Guidelines for Americans published by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The weights in this chart are listed in ranges for people (men and women) of specific heights. Naturally, height is measured without shoes, and weight is measured without clothes. (For more — much more — on the Dietary Guidelines, see Chapter 16.)

Because most people gain some weight as they grow older, Table 3-4 does a really sensible thing by dividing the ranges into two broad categories, one for men and women ages 19 to 34, the other for men and women ages 35 and older.

People with a small frame and proportionately more fat tissue than muscle tissue (muscle is heavier than fat) are likely to weigh in at the low end. People with a large frame and proportionately more muscle than fat are likely to weigh in at the high end. As a general (but by no means invariable) rule, that means that women — who have smaller frames and less muscle — weigh less than men of the same height and age.

Fittest and fattest U.S. cities

June is bustin' out all over. How about you? For several years, the guys at Men's Fitness magazine have rated the top 25 fattest and fittest cities in the United States. Of course, Men's Fitness i s published in Southern California, where long legs, slim hips, tight abs, and a taste for sprouts are handed out at birth. As a result, the magazine's pundits may not know that in other places like, oh, New York, Chicago, Milwaukee, you-pick-it, Americans come in all shapes and sizes. And they may have missed the fact that running for a bus or climbing subway stairs constitutes a daily workout in metro areas. Or that compared to high-fat, goat-cheese pizza, a West Coast fave, city bagels are health food.

Nonetheless, the magazine's lists are a warning for the weighty. I'll tell you right off the bat that in 2005, the 25 fittest cities (starting with the best)

were Seattle, Honolulu, Colorado Springs, San Francisco, Denver, Portland (Oregon), Tucson, San Diego, Albuquerque, Boston, Virginia Beach (Virginia), Minneapolis, Fresno, Milwaukee, Omaha, San Jose (California), Jacksonville, Austin, Oakland, Los Angeles, Arlington (Texas), Washington, D.C., Cleveland, and Nashville-Davidson. Yay!

The 25 fattest (starting with the worst) were Houston, Philadelphia, Detroit, Memphis, Chicago, Dallas, New Orleans, New York, Las Vegas, San Antonio, El Paso, Phoenix, Indianapolis, Fort Worth, Mesa (Arizona), Columbus (Ohio), Wichita (Kansas), Miami (Florida), Long Beach (California), Oklahoma City, Tulsa, Atlanta, Charlotte (North Carolina), and Baltimore. Shape up, guys. Men's Fitness i s watching you!

I feel honor bound to tell you that the 2000 and 2005 editions of the Dietary Guidelines leave out the higher weight allowances for older people, which means that the healthy weights for everyone, young or old, are the ones listed in the column for 19- to 34-year-olds. I'm going to go out on a limb here to say that I prefer the 1990 recommendations because they're

  • Achievable without constant dieting
  • Realistic about how your body changes as you get older
  • Less likely to make you totally crazy about your weight
  • which is a pretty good description of how nutritional guidelines need to work, don't you think?

Another way to rate your weight: Calculating your BMl

As you run your finger down the chart in Table 3-4, remember that the numbers are guidelines — no more, no less.

Table 3-4

How Much Should You Weigh?


Weight (Pounds) for 19- to 34-Year-Olds

Weight (Pounds) for 35-Year-Olds and Older


























































Nutrition and Your Health: Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 3rd ed. (Washington D.C.: U.S. Department of Agriculture, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 1990)

Nutrition and Your Health: Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 3rd ed. (Washington D.C.: U.S. Department of Agriculture, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 1990)

Squeezing people into neat little boxes is a reassuring exercise, but in real life, human beings constantly confound the rules. We all know chubby people who live long and happy lives and trim and skinny ones who leave us sooner than they should. However, people who are overweight have a higher risk of developing conditions such as arthritis, diabetes, and heart disease, so you need a way to find out whether your current weight puts you at risk.

What do they mean when they say that you're fat?

Obesity is a specific medical condition in which the body accumulates an overabundance of fatty tissue. One way American nutritionists determine who's obese is by comparing a person's weight with the figures on the weight/height charts (see Table 3-4):

1 If your weight is 20 to 40 percent higher than the chart recommends, you're mildly obese.

1 If your weight is 40 to 99 percent higher, you're moderately obese.

1 If your weight is more than double the weight on the chart, you're severely obese.

One good guide is the Body Mass Index (BMI), a number that measures the relationship between your weight and your height and offers some predictive estimate of your risk of weight-related disease.

The Body Mass Index (BMI) provides a second way to determine who's tipping the scales. In the United States, a BMI below 18.5 is currently considered underweight, 18.5-24.9 is normal, 25.0-29.9 is overweight, and 30.0 and higher is obese. Other countries have slightly different standards. For example, in Australia, a BMI below 19 is underweight, 20-25 is normal, 26-30 is overweight, and 31+ is obese. In Canada, a BMI below 18.5 is underweight, 18.5-24.9 is normal, 25-29.9 is overweight, 30-34.9 is Class 1 obese, 35-39.9 is Class 2 obese, and 40+ is Class 3 obese. In Great Britain, a BMI below 20 is underweight, 20-25 is normal, 25-30 is overweight, and 30+ is obese.

To calculate your BMI, perform the following steps:

  1. Divide your weight (in pounds) by your height (in inches) squared.
  2. Multiply the result of Step 1 by 705.

For example, if you are 5'3" (63 inches) tall and weigh 138 pounds, the equations for your BMI look like this:

Currently, the healthiest BMI seems to be 21.0. A BMI higher than 28 (168 pounds for a 5'5" woman; 195 pounds for a 5'10" man) appears to double the risk of diabetes, heart disease, and death.


How reliable are the numbers? Considering confounding variables

Weight charts and tables and numbers and stats are so plentiful that you may think they're totally reliable in predicting who's healthy and who's not. So here's a surprise: They aren't.

The problem is that real people and their differences keep sneaking into the equation. For example, the value of the Body Mass Index in predicting your risk of illness or death appears to be tied to your age. If you're in your 30s, a lower BMI is clearly linked to better health. If you're in your 70s or older, no convincing evidence points to how much you weigh playing a significant role in determining how healthy you are or how much longer you'll live. In between, from age 30 to age 74, the relationship between your BMI and your health is, well, in-between — more important early on, less important later in life.

In other words, the simple evidence of your own eyes is true. Although Americans sometimes seem totally obsessed with the need to lose weight, the fact is that many larger people, even people who are clearly obese, do live long, happy, and healthy lives. To figure out why, many nutrition scientists now are focusing not only on weight or weight/height (the BMI) but on the importance of confounding variables, which is sciencespeak for "something else is going on here."

Here are three potential confounding variables in the obesity/health equation:

1 Maybe people who are overweight are more prone to illness because they exercise less, in which case stepping up the workouts may reduce the perceived risk of being overweight.

1 People who are overweight may be more likely to be sick because they eat lots of foods containing high-calorie ingredients, such as saturated fat, that can trigger adverse health effects; in this case, the remedy may simply be a change in diet.

1 Maybe people who are overweight have a genetic predisposition to a serious disease. If that's true, you'd have to ask whether losing 20 pounds really reduces their risk of disease to the level of a person who is naturally 20 pounds lighter. Perhaps not: In a few studies, people who successfully lost weight actually had a higher rate of death.

Adding to the confusion is the fact that an obsessive attempt to lose weight may itself be hazardous to your health (see Chapter 14). Every year, Americans spend $30 billion to $50 billion (yes, you read that right) on diet clubs, special foods, and over-the-counter remedies aimed at weight loss. Often the diets, the pills, and the foods don't work, which can leave dieters feeling worse than they did before they started.

The chance that the diet fails is only half the bad news. Here's the rest: Some foods that effectively lower calorie intake and some drugs that effectively reduce appetite have potentially serious side effects. For example, some fat substitutes prevent your body from absorbing important nutrients (see Chapter 19), and some prescription diet drugs, such as the combination once known as Phen-Fen, are linked to serious, even fatal, diseases.

Facing the numbers when they don't fit your body

Right about here, you probably feel the strong need for a really big chocolate bar (not such a bad idea now that nutritionists have discovered that dark chocolate is rich in disease-fighting antioxidants). But it also makes sense to consider the alternative: realistic rules that enable you to control your weight safely and effectively. Check out the following:

  • Rule No. 1: Not everybody starts out with the same set of genes — or fits into the same pair of jeans. Some people are naturally larger and heavier than others. If that's you, and all your vital stats satisfy your doctor, don't waste time trying to fit someone else's idea of perfection. Relax and enjoy your own body.
  • Rule No. 2: If you're overweight and your doctor agrees with your decision to diet, you don't have to set world records to improve your health. Even a moderate drop in poundage can be highly beneficial. According to The New England Journal of Medicine ( on the Net), losing just 10 to 15 percent of your body weight can lower high blood sugar, high cholesterol, and high blood pressure, reducing your risks of diabetes, heart disease, and stroke.
  • Rule No. 3: The only number you really need to remember is 3,500, the number of calories it takes to gain or lose one pound of body fat.

In other words, one pound of body fat equals 3,500 calories. So if you simply

  • Cut your calorie consumption from 2,000 calories a day to 1,700 and continue to do the same amount of physical work, you'll lose one pound of fat in just 12 days.
  • Go the other way, increasing from 1,700 to 2,000 calories a day without increasing the amount of work you do, 12 days later you'll be one pound heavier.

1 Rule No. 4: Moderation is the best path to weight control. Moderate calorie deprivation on a sensible diet produces healthful, moderate weight loss; this diet includes a wide variety of different foods containing sufficient amounts of essential nutrients. Abusing this rule and cutting calories to the bone can turn you literally into skin and bones, depriving you of the nutrients you need to live a normal healthy life. For more on the potentially devastating effects of starvation, voluntary and otherwise, check out Chapter 14.

1 Rule No. 5: Be more active. Doing exercise allows you to take in more calories and still lose weight. In addition, exercise reduces the risk of many health problems, such as heart disease. Sounds like a recipe for success.

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