Most health professionals use BMI, or body mass index, as a screening tool to assess someone’s risk for chronic disease. This mathematical formula uses height and weight to estimate body fat, and can be calculated here: www.nhlbisupport.com/bmi
• Underweight = below 18.5
• Normal = 18.5 - 24.9
• Overweight = 25.0 - 29.9
• Obesity = 30.0 and above
Research suggests that having a BMI greater than 25 puts you at risk for developing illnesses, such as heart disease, diabetes and some cancers. Although this screening tool is widely used, it doesn’t take into account body fat percentage, gender, age, eating habits, exercise patterns, drug use, family history, or mental health -— all factors that greatly impact your health.
Along with BMI, measuring waist circumference can screen for possible health risks. Fat around the waist is more dangerous to your body than fat around your thighs and hips. The reason for this is because your abdomen holds your organs, and more fat near your organs increases the risk for diseases like type 2 diabetes and heart disease. For women, a waist circumference of greater than 35 inches increases your risk, and for men, greater than 40 inches. To correctly measure your waist circumference, stand and place a tape measure around your middle, just above your hipbones. Measure your waist just after you breathe out.
The National Institutes of Health has developed a table that provides you with an estimate of your disease risk based on your BMI combined with your waist circumference.
Body composition refers to the amount of body fat to lean body mass (muscles, organs, bones, tissues). Some people biologically have more muscle than others. For example, men typically have a higher percentage of muscle mass than women. A certain amount of body fat is necessary for everyone. However, too much fat is connected with disease risk. The average woman should be around 20% body fat and men around 15% body fat. Women with more than 30% body fat and men with more than 25% body fat are considered at increased risk for disease. Body composition is viewed by some as the “gold standard” of assessing disease risk, since BMI can falsely classify someone with a large amount of muscle mass (like athletes) as “high risk” for disease when their actual disease risk is low (because their physical activity is high and body fat percentage is low).
Body composition can be assessed by a variety of methods, some more accurate than others. Each one requires a specially trained person to administer the test and perform calculations, which can be costly. The most inexpensive method of measuring body fat is skinfold thickness measurements. This is done by a trained individual using a skinfold caliper that pinches the thickness of fat at certain body points. However, depending on the calipers and the person measuring, the results can vary. Other methods of measuring body composition are: underwater weighing, dual X-ray absorptiometry (DEXA), biometrical impedance monitor, and ultrasound. However, these measurements only give a picture of your body’s composition, not your lifestyle and dietary habits. We will focus on what you can start changing today and what impacts your health: your daily habits.
If you are classified as “overweight” or “obese” by one of these measurements, you have an increased risk for developing these diseases:
We want to help you develop lifestyle habits that will prevent disease and provide wellness, not only while you are in college, but throughout your life.
For a detailed assessment of your risk for chronic diseases along with tips on reducing your risk, please visit www.yourdiseaserisk.wustl.edu.
BMI is not the problem, and focusing on weight is not the solution. Lifestyle and eating habits are more important to your health than the number on the scale. However, a BMI over 25 may be a “red flag” that there are lifestyle behaviors or other factors that could negatively impact health. We aim to take the focus off weight, and focus on what really matters -— your daily habits that contribute to lifelong health and wellness.
Improving your health does not have to be a “total overhaul” of your lifestyle habits. A few changes in your daily habits, like riding your bike to class instead of driving, or cutting out sugary beverages, can make a significant impact on your health and wellness. Please consider using the rest of this website for help in determining the next steps for you.
Personalized eating plans and interactive tools to help plan and assess food choices, based on the Dietary Guidelines for Americans
Nutrition information, recipes and other reliable food information from the Centers for Disease Control
Tips on how and where to start adding exercise into your life
** Be careful of websites that offer quick fixes, or seem too good to be true. Fad diets may offer quick weight loss, but can be dangerous, expensive, and are usually followed by weight regain.
Check out this slideshow that reviews the latest fad diets.