Are Just a Few Extra Pounds Risky for Your Health?

March 3, 2011

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pinch an inchA recent study asked the question, “Are just a few extra pounds risky for your health?”

It’s an interesting question, and one well worth asking since 2 out of 3 Americans are either a little or a lot overweight. In fact, being overweight is almost more “normal” now than being at a healthy weight. But does that make it “ok” from a health standpoint?

Clearly, many studies have established that obesity and morbid obesity are linked to multiple health risks and a shortened lifespan. But what about 5, 10, or even 20 extra pounds? Are they dangerous, too?

The study reviewed the medical records of some 1.5 million adults in an attempt to find out. Researchers discovered that at least for those with European heritage, even being a few pounds overweight (with a BMI — or Body Mass Index — between 25 and 29) made it 13 percent more likely they would die during the study’s time frame than those who had a BMI in the ideal range of 22.5 to 24.9.

Compare that to a range of between 44 and 88 percent more likely if one was clinically obese (with a BMI between 30 and 39.9) or 250 percent for those who were morbidly obese (a BMI over 40).

In addition, who your relatives were also seems to play a role. For certain ethnic groups, like whites and Asians, the health risks of a few extra pounds seem to be greater than for other groups, such as those with an African or Latin American heritage. We are still trying to understand why this is so.

One thing I don’t like about this study is that it looked at BMI alone, not body composition. While BMI is a good number for determining if one is overweight, it only tells part of the story. Very athletic people, for example, can have very little body fat but still be technically “overweight” when one looks at BMI because lean muscle weighs more than fat. Likewise, someone could actually have a BMI in the ideal range yet also have a higher body fat percentage than he or she should.

I think a better question to ask might be: Is excess body fat risky for your health? When phrased this way, I think the research says, “Yes.” Excess body fat has been linked to a whole host of possible health risks, including something called metabolic syndrome, a collection of health issues like high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and pre-diabetes that all add up to a serious health crisis in the making.

I believe for optimal health, everyone should know his or her BMI and body composition numbers and strive to keep them in the ideal range rather than focus on weight alone.

Likewise, if someone is overweight, he or she should be careful to lose weight in a way that decreases body fat while preserving lean muscle, something we focus on with The Center for Medical Weight Loss program. Otherwise, dieting can lead to lean muscle and water loss, but not reduce body fat stores – leaving the person in a worse position, health-wise, than before!

In short, the numbers on the scale only tell part of the story. If you are interested in losing weight for optimal health, you need to know more than your height and weight. And you need to be sure that the weight you lose is coming from the right places – fat stores – and not the wrong ones.

Dr. Michael Kaplan

Founder and Chief Medical Officer

The Center for Medical Weight Loss

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