Body weight and health is a relationship that will forever be discussed. Overweight/obesity = unhealthy, right? Hopping on the scale and seeing a specific number, whether ‘good’ or ‘bad’, is a quick and easy way many of us define our level of health. We have been conditioned to obsess over the number on the scale. Does that number really matter when it comes to how healthy we are? Yours truly believes the answer is no... and... yes.
Prevention recently published an article, Rethinking Fatness: Why Everything You’ve Been Told About Weight May Be Wrong.
After reading the article, it's obvious message is that body weight, alone, should not be the determining factor for measuring health. Instead, biometrics such as blood pressure, blood sugar, and cholesterol should be the focus. There is a lot of truth to that and the article cites studies to back that position. Body weight, traditionally, is also a common metric used when discussing health with your doctor. The number on the scale does not necessarily determine your bio-metabolic health, but body weight continues to be a topic of discussion in doctors’ offices.
So why does body weight not determine health? Body Mass Index (BMI) is a popular measurement. It sounds fancy, for sure. It is simply a way to compare one’s height and weight. Although there is a calculation involved, it really is nothing more than the old height-weight tables you may remember seeing at the doctor’s office. For an individual, this may be useless in determining overall health. The common example used to discredit BMI is a lean, muscular individual that weighs more than the metric advises. In addition to this example, just as “fatness” does not determine health, neither does “leanness.” BMI is useful in two scenarios. First, an individual may have goals that include dropping a few pounds (yes, it is OK to use vanity as a motivation). Just because a specific weight does not necessarily indicate better health, that does not mean weight, as a motivation to healthy behavior, is not valid. Secondly, when BMI is taken as a big picture metric over a population, there is definitely a correlation between BMI and other health metrics. This leads to the reason weight does matter.
As just pointed out, body weight and BMI may not define the health metrics that really matter for an individual. The reason body weight or “fatness” may indeed matter, is for those whose unhealthy behavior has led to being overweight/obese as defined by BMI. Although body weight may not be the cause of bad health, there is definitely a correlation. The correlation lies in our behaviors. For many, an increased body weight is due to unhealthy decisions, most likely consistently poor diet and lack of exercise. On top of that, the article does mention the risk to joint health and body weight. Simple math; more weight = more joint stress, makes body weight matter. Body weight aside, there is definitely a cause and effect relationship among a healthy diet, physical activity, and the health metrics that do matter. Our behavior affects our health. Many times behavior directly affects the number on the scale. Although there may be other contributing factors, consistent unhealthy behavior contributes to increased body weight.
So, does body weight really matter? For some the answer is no, for others it is yes. The focus should be on healthy behavior. The message in the Prevention article is technically accurate. However, we should not allow it to excuse us from healthy behavior.