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What’s a Healthy Weight for You? – Consumer Reports

Apr 7th, 2023

Knowing your BMI tells you whether you might be carrying extra pounds. But it doesnt tell you how much muscle you have or where the fat is located, two factors that are important in determining whether you need to lose weight.

With age, the amount of fat you have increases and the amount of muscle decreases. This age-related loss of muscle, called sarcopenia, is associated with a higher risk of falls, frailty, and early death. In addition, that extra fat may accumulate in the midsection (called visceral fat) and infiltrate muscles and organs, such as the liver. This shift, which happens regardless of the BMI, contributes to an increased risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, liver disease, and more.

Thats why some researchers point to body composition testing, which determines the percentage of body fat, as a way to get a more accurate idea how weight could be affecting health. A 2020 review published in Frontiers in Nutrition found that evidence supports the role of low lean mass [i.e., muscle] as the actual predictor of mortality when used in place of BMI.

There are easy ways to figure out where you stand in terms of body fat and muscle.

First, measure your waist circumference, which will help you see if youre carrying too much visceral fat. Place a tape measure around your middle, just above your hip bones. If the number is greater than 40 inches for men and 35 inches for women, your disease risk is higher.

An inexpensive way to measure body fat is to use skinfold calipers (available at many gyms). But a DXA (dual X-ray absorptiometry) scan, which your doctor may have already recommended to test bone density, can tell you how much fat and muscle youre carrying and estimate the amount of visceral fat. So if youre getting a DXA scan for your bones, ask for those results. According to the American College of Sports Medicine, a poor result for people ages 60 and over is a body fat percentage greater than 25.7 for men and over 30.9 for women. (Note: Scales that measure body fat might not give accurate results, CRs tests have found.)

Next, with these numbers in hand, consider your health and lifestyle. Are you in good health or are you trying to manage one or more chronic conditions, such as heart disease, diabetes, COPD, or osteoarthritis? Do you have trouble moving around because of excess weight or can you do all the things you want to do, such as playing with your grandkids, volunteering, or just sleeping soundly? Focusing on these factors is a better approach for evaluating if you need to lose weight than focusing on what the scale says alone, says Laura Mosqueda, MD, a professor of family medicine and geriatrics at the Keck School of Medicine of USC in Los Angeles.

For example, if youre 5 feet, 6 inches and weigh 160 or 170 (a BMI of 25.8 or 27.4, respectively); your waist size is within the guidelines; and youre active and healthy, you probably dont need to worry about losing weight. But if you have underlying health conditions or youre carrying excess pounds around your middle, you may be better off trying to drop some weight. If necessary, your doctor can help you determine how weight changes could affect your health.

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What's a Healthy Weight for You? - Consumer Reports

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