Why Your Weight Might Matter Less Than You Think

Why Your Weight Might Matter Less Than You Think

The so-called "war on obesity" has convinced many people that obesity is the biggest public health threat, and that even a few extra pounds are potentially fatal. But health is complex, and the number on a scale won't tell you much about your risk factors or overall wellness.

Two out of every three adults are classified as overweight or obese. Sadly, many will spend their lives obsessing over a number on a scale and perpetually failing to lose weight. There's no denying that severe obesity endangers health, but this doesn't mean losing weight is the key to good health. Moreover, many people classified as overweight or obese are actually perfectly healthy. Look just beneath the surface of the obesity epidemic and you'll find a lot of body shaming, a lot of unreasonable expectations about how people should look, and a boatload of medical myths. Here are five reasons being overweight might not be as dangerous as you think.

1. Body Mass Index can mislead.

Most doctors assess weight by using Body Mass Index, a simple height-to-weight ratio. For many people, BMI is a reasonable approximation of healthy weight, but the number can also mislead. Some issues with BMI include:

  • Athletes and other very muscular people may be medically classified as overweight despite having little body fat.
  • BMI does not measure fat percentages. Some thin people may actually have more fat than people deemed "overweight" by BMI.
  • BMI will not work for pregnant women, since pregnancy necessitates significant weight gain.
  • People who are actively losing weight may still have "unhealthy" BMIs, and pressure to lose weight more quickly can actually do harm.

2. Many overweight people are healthy.

Many people medically classified as overweight or even obese are actually perfectly healthy, according to a large study of more than 40,000 adults. Researchers found that about a third of those with high BMIs were perfectly healthy. If your weight is the only measure your doctor uses to assess your health, there might be no reason to lose weight, no matter what your provider or other people tell you.

3. Other risk factors often matter more.

Being overweight or obese is just one of many health risk factors. A person who eats a little too much of healthy foods could end up with a high BMI, while a person who limits calories but gorges herself on candy might pass a BMI assessment. To assess your health, your doctor must look at a number of factors, including your diet, activity level, and endocrine health.

4. Yo-yo dieting can be deadly.

Some people are biologically predisposed to have larger bodies. Of course, this doesn't mean you're doomed to being 100 pounds overweight. Being a few pounds overweight, though, is actually healthier than cycling up and down on the scale. Yo-yo dieting disrupts your endocrine system, damages your heart, and can destroy your metabolism.

5. Mental health matters.

Your mental health matters every bit as your physical health. Anxiety and depression are risk factors for premature death, cardiovascular disease, and even for more weight gain. If you hate yourself because of your weight, then attempting weight loss could be doing more harm than good. Moreover, if your doctor encourages you to lose weight without considering your other health risk factors, repeatedly calls you fat, or otherwise degrades you because of your weight, your health may suffer. Find a provider who can treat you as a whole person, not just a figure on the scale.

Obsessing over the number on the scale can do more harm than good. Even if a doctor tells you you need to lose weight, this isn't always the case.


National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases: Overweight and Obesity Statistics