Your Weight: Getting to the Heart of the Matter
by Dagmar Gross
Believe it or not, if youre carrying 10 extra pounds, you can expect to lose 12
months off your life. The Heart and Stroke Foundation of Ontario has published a pamphlet
called the Womens Heart Health Challenge which indicates that 10 extra pounds
may be more hazardous to your cardiovascular health than having diabetes or living with a
smoker (smoking can take 60 months off of your life, however). But what is a persons
ideal body weight? Can losing 10 pounds really make a difference? Are there any dangers to
"yo-yo" dieting? And how do you keep off the weight once youve lost it?
Many of us refer to height-weight charts (which are often out-dated) or compare
ourselves to someone whose figure we envy to determine how much we should weigh. But what
is considered a healthy body weight? The majority of research studies in medical journals
refer to the body mass index, or BMI, which is calculated by dividing a persons
weight (in kilograms) by the square of their height (in metres). A BMI of 20-24 kg/m2 is
considered "acceptable", whereas a BMI equal to or greater than 27 kg/m2 is
associated with increasing health risks. A BMI that falls between 24 and 27 kg/m2 is
either acceptable or has moderate health risks, depending on the study 1,2, 3
Being overweight (BMI over 27) increases the risk of developing any number of serious
disorders, including hypertension, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and osteoarthritis 2,4,5.
The good news is by simply losing ten pounds, or 10% of your body weight, a person can
significantly reduce the risks. Both short term and long term studies indicate that weight
loss lowers blood pressure 4, 6, 7, increases "good"
cholesterol (HDL) and may lower "bad" cholesterol (LDL) 4, 8, 9,
diminishes abnormalities in heart structure that are associated with obesity 10 ,
and reduces the odds of getting diabetes and hypertension to the same levels as those of
normal weight women 2. Weight reduction has also been shown to improve
menstrual regularity and fertility 11.
The best way to lose excess weight is through diet and exercise. This combination
provides superior results that are maintained at least three years after the weight loss 12,13,14.
In comparison, people who use diet only tend to gain back all of the weight they lost,
plus more, within two years 13,14.
Gaining back the weight youve lost will, for the most part, negate any of the
benefits or reduced health risks you experienced with the weight loss 4,5,8.
However, the phenomenon of weight cycling, or repeated weight loss and gain, does not
appear to have many inherent risks on its own, as shown by several studies that are either
inconclusive or have severe limitations 3,15,16. Also, weight cycling
does not seem to affect percentage or distribution of body fat 3.
However, premenopausal women who frequently gain and lose weight may have a lower bone
mineral density 17, which could influence the risk of osteoporosis later
It is important for us, especially as women, to keep some perspective on the whole
issue of weight and determine what is healthiest for each of us. In fact, one out of every
three women with a healthy body weight (BMI between 20 and 24) is trying to lose weight 1.
So before embarking on any weight loss program, seek the advice of your physician and
calculate your own BMI. This will give you a good idea of how much weight, if any, you really
need to lose.
1. Green, K.L., et al. Weight dissatisfaction and weight loss attempts among
Canadian adults. Canadian Heart Health Surveys Research Group. J Cdn Med Assoc
2. French, S.A., et al. Weight loss maintenance in young adulthood: prevalence and
correlations with health behavior and disease in a population-based sample of women aged
55-69 years. Int J Obes Relat Metab Disord 20:303, 1996
3. National Task Force on the Prevention and Treatment of Obesity. Weight cycling.
J Am Med Assoc 272:1196, 1994
4. Pi-Sunyer, F.X. A review of long-term studies evaluating the efficacy of weight
loss in ameliorating disorders associated with obesity. Clin Therapeutics 18:1006,
5. Williamson, D.F. Intentional weight loss: patterns in the general population and
its association with morbidity and mortality. Int J Obes Relat Metab Disord 21:S14,
6. The Trials of Hypertension Prevention Collaborative Research Group. Effects of
weight loss and sodium reduction intervention on blood pressure and hypertension incidence
in overweight people with high-normal blood pressure. The Trials of Hypertension
Prevention, phase II. Arch Intern Med 157:657, 1997
7. Gordon, N.F., et al. Comparison of single versus multiple lifestyle
interventions: are the antihypertensive effects of exercise training and diet-induced
weight loss additive? Am J Cardiol 79:763, 1997
8. Van Gaal, L.F., et al. The beneficial effects of modest weight loss on
cardiovascular risk factors. Int J Obes Relat Metab Disord 21:S5, 1997
9. Nicklas, BJ., et al. Effects of an American Heart Association diet and weight
loss on lipoprotein lipids in obese, postmenopausal women. Am J Clin Nutr. 66:853,
10. Karason, K., et al. Effects of obesity and weight loss on left ventricular mass
and relative wall thickness: survey and intervention study. Brit Med J 315:912,
11. Hollmann, M., et al. Effects of weight loss on the hormonal profile in obese,
infertile women. Hum Reprod 11:1884, 1996
12. Miller, W.C., et al. A meta-analysis of the past 25 years of weight loss
research using diet, exercise or diet plus exercise intervention. Int J Obes Relat
Metab Disord 21:941, 1997
13. Grodstein, F., et al. Three-year follow-up of participants in a commercial
weight loss program. Can you keep it off? Arch Intern Med 156:1302, 1996
14. Skender, M.L., et al. Comparison of 2-year weight loss trends in behavioural
treatments of obesity: diet, exercise, and combination interventions. J Am Diet Assoc
15. Muls, E., et al. Is weight cycling detrimental to health? A review of the
literature in humans. Int J Obes Relat Metab Disord 19:S46, 1995
16. Itoh, T., et al. Effects of weight cycling on coronary risk factors. J
Epidemiol 6:55, 1996
17. Fogelholm, M., et al. Association between weight cycling history and bone
mineral density in premenopausal women. Osteoporos Int 7:354, 1997
Dagmar Gross, M.Sc., is president of MedSci Communications & Consulting Co., which
specializes in technical writing and meeting planning services for the medical,
scientific, and health communities. Ms. Gross may be contacted at: 2 Bloor St. West, Suite
#100-385, Toronto, ON, M4W 3E2, Tel: 416-968-9414, Fax: 416-968-9417, E-mail: [email protected]
"Copyright © 1998 WOMAN Newsmagazine. Reprinted by permission."