There is something close to an obsession around weight nowadays. Some of it is driven by disconcerting news headlines that say close to two thirds of adults are overweight. Some of it is no doubt the result of the constant stream of images of beautiful bodies we see every day in all types of media.
Yet it’s not necessarily a bad thing either. If two thirds of us are overweight, it can’t hurt for the majority to shed a few pounds. But like all obsessions, it can go too far. And since Coach is all about being fitter, healthier and happier, we thought we’d focus instead on pointing out what a healthy weight actually is, so that once you’re there you can concentrate on an enjoying a healthy lifestyle rather than sweating the number on the scales.
There are three main ways to determine whether or not you are a healthy weight, but none of them are perfect. That said, if you have a decent handle on all three, you’ll be able to make a sensible call.
Body mass index (BMI) has long been established as the go-to option for public health bodies. BMI provides a simple score based on your height, weight, age and gender, which then classifies you in one of five brackets – underweight, normal weight, overweight, obese or very obese.
There are some problems with using BMI as the only indicator of whether you are a healthy weight, but it is undoubtedly a useful measurement, so is a good starting point when looking to see if your own weight is in the healthy range. Head to the Healthy Weight Calculator on the NHS website and put in your details to get your own BMI score.
A BMI of anywhere between 18.5 and 25 is considered in the healthy range. Below 18.5 is underweight, 25 to 30 is overweight, 30 to 40 is obese and above 40 is very or morbidly obese.
The main issue with BMI is that it doesn’t consider what the weight is made up of – i.e. fat or muscle – so you can be classed as overweight when actually you’re a muscle-bound Adonis. If that is the case, however, you’ll probably be able to hazard a guess at whether you’re in decent shape regardless of what your BMI says.
To counter this issue with BMI you can also measure your body fat percentage, which will make it clear if the weight you’re carrying is due to bulging biceps or a beer belly. Body fat percentage can be measured with callipers or smart scales at home or, for a far more precise (and expensive) measurement, you can get a dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry (DEXA) measurement.
If using smart scales in particular, be aware that the measurements can vary wildly over the course of even just a few minutes, so it’s best to always use these scales at a specific time of day to identify trends in your body fat over time rather than worrying over a one-off figure.
What’s considered a healthy body fat percentage varies by age and gender, and you’ll often also find different brackets for what’s considered normal in different places. The NHS doesn’t have guidelines for body fat percentage, partly because it is difficult for people to accurately measure themselves, especially when compared to BMI.
The below table comes from the American Council on Exercise. It doesn’t take into account age (if you are older it’s normal to have a higher body fat percentage), but can be used as a general guide to see what is classed as a healthy body fat percentage.
|Obese||30% or more||40% or more|
There is another easy way to measure whether you are a healthy weight that will also give a good indication of whether you are carrying too much fat. This is your waist-to-height ratio (WHtR). If this is over 0.5 you are at an increased risk of health problems.
To measure your WHtR grab a piece of string and use it to measure your height. Then fold the string in half and wrap it around your waist halfway between your hip bone and your lowest rib (don’t breathe in). If the halved string isn’t long enough to go around your waist, your ratio is over 0.5 and needs some attention.