Women are being sent two very different messages about our bodies these days. On the one hand, everyone from Tyra Banks to Glamour magazine says it’s oh-so-enlightened to “rock your curves” and accept the shape you have. But on the other hand, news headlines, doctors and even the First Lady (bless her sculpted arms) trumpet the dangers of being overweight.
So how can you accept your body and still strive to be healthy?
New research, along with in-the-trenches experts, suggest that the answer may lie in reexamining what a “healthy” weight means for you and focusing first on building good behaviors rather than achieving a specific number on a scale.
Redefining “Healthy” Weight
It’s inescapably true that this country is getting larger. The latest numbers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention peg the percentage of Americans who are obese (that is, have a body mass index of 30 or higher) at nearly 36 percent—far more than the 23 percent in the 1980s. About 33 percent of us are in the “overweight” category with BMIs of 25 to 29, a number that hasn’t changed much over the decades. But how this translates to actual health may surprise you.
A new meta-analysis by well-respected researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention involving nearly 100 previous studies found that people who are overweight or on the lower edges of obese (a BMI under 35) actually have a slightly lower risk of death from illness than those of normal weight or underweight people. That said, people who were heavier than that did show a significant 30 percent increase in the risk of dying from a myriad of causes. “The facts are that there are definitely health risks associated with obesity,” says Cynthia M. Bulik, Ph.D., director of the University of North Carolina Center of Excellence for Eating Disorders in Chapel Hill. “The grey area is in the overweight category. Having a BMI of 26 simply does not carry the same health risks as having a BMI of 40. Once again, people like seeing the world in all or nothing terms—either you are not overweight or you are. It isn't a dichotomy, it's a continuum.”
What’s more, weight or BMI may not be the most important measure of a person’s fitness. “Body weight is not the only indicator of health and it should be one of multiple indices, such as cholesterol, blood pressure and blood sugar, that are considered,” says Rebecca Puhl, Ph.D., director of research at the Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity at Yale University.
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