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Summer Dilemma: How Can I Tell if I Have a Weight Problem?

7 Easy Ways to Get Active Today and Cut Calories

  • Make a pact with yourself to walk three times a day for 10 minutes, then increase your time gradually
  • Find a workout buddy, an activity group or get your family involved in exercise
  • Leave your workout clothes at the front door, in your car or at your workplace to avoid excuses
  • Cut out sodas or make it a once-a-week treat (a 12-ounce Coca Cola= 140 calories x 7 days a week = 980 calories; in four weeks that's 3,920 calories. One pound of fat is 3,500 calories. Cut out soda and lose one pound in four weeks!)
  • Drink skim milk instead of whole milk
  • Eat breakfast every day for much needed energy and to curb your hunger for the entire day
  • Find a physical activity you enjoy and practice it often!

If you’re wondering whether to blame tight, low-rise jeans for the overspill of flesh at your waistline, or if the culprit is a real sign of a more serious weight problem, we can help you determine the truth. Don’t be afraid—this knowledge could save your life.

Being severely overweight or obese significantly raises your risk for developing serious health problems, regardless of age. Numerous studies have shown that excess fat around the waist is linked to cardiovascular disease, diabetes and even cancer. The more fat you carry around your waist, the greater your risk for developing disease.

So how do you know if you’re at risk or merely victimized by an unfortunate fashion trend? Keep reading.

In this article, we’ll dispel myths about the “muffin top” syndrome by helping you determine your personal risk for developing serious health problems. We’ll also look at origins of extreme overweight and obesity and what they mean for your health. Moreover, we’ll talk about the critical role physical activity plays in achieving a healthy body weight and lifelong well-being.

Finally, we’ll provide five life-changing tips for active, healthy living. 

Bust Out the Measuring Tape

Among the easiest ways to discover if you’re at risk for developing heart disease is by measuring your waist circumference, waist-to-hip ratio and determining your Body Mass Index, or BMI.

How to Measure Waist Circumference

To measure your waist circumference, simply use a measuring tape and find the mid-point between your lowest rib and the top of your hip bone (also called iliac crest). Take the measurement in between breaths. Waist circumference is a valid measure for obesity. Risk for obesity-related problems increases substantially for females with waists measuring 35 inches or more, and for males with waists measuring 40 inches or more.

How to Measure Waist-to-Hip Ratio

To find your waist-to-hip ratio, place the tape measurer around the greatest circumference of your buttocks and then simply divide that number by your waist circumference. For accurate results, remove items from your pockets and avoid bulky clothing. A number greater or equal to 0.95 indicates a risk factor for heart disease in males, and a 0.86 or greater signifies a risk factor for heart problems in females. The scores are different for females, because women have wider hips for child-bearing purposes.

Keep in mind that neither measurement listed above provides estimates for body fat or body composition. Nevertheless, they are good indicators of your current health status.

What’s My BMI?

If you’ve had a physical exam lately, your doctor may have discussed your BMI, which refers to the relationship between weight and height. A BMI between 25 and 29.9 signifies overweight; and a BMI greater than 30 is tied to obesity. For most adults, the BMI is a solid indicator of your risk for developing heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure and sleep apnea.

But in some people, especially very muscular athletes, BMI can be misleading.

Consider NBA star Shaquille O’Neal. At 7-foot-1 and 325 pounds, Shaq’s BMI is 31.6, which puts him in the ‘obese’ category. While O’Neal may be a big guy, he’s hardly obese.

Body Adiposity Index (BAI)

The Body Adiposity Index, a relatively new index, is seen as an alternative method to determining body fat in adult men and women and is calculated as follows: [hip circumference in centimeters / (height in meters)1.5 ] – 18. In validating BAI, researchers compared it to an established accurate measure for determining percentage body fat (dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry). It needs to be noted, however, that the findings are based on tests in Mexican Americans and African Americans. Hence, BAI’s role still needs to be assessed in other ethnic groups.

America’s Obesity Epidemic

Today, about two-thirds of American adults and one-third of our children are overweight or obese, according to statistics by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Obesity was relatively stable in the U.S. between 1960 and 1980 when about 15 percent of all people fell into that category, but then dramatically increased in the ‘80s and ‘90s.

So, what changed?

Causes of Obesity

There are multiple contributing factors. Americans’ inactivity, more time spent watching television, sitting in cars and occupying desk jobs in this technology age all play a role. As a whole, Americans lack physical activity, eat too many unhealthy foods and underestimate portion sizes. On-going research suggests that genetics also play a role.

Role of Genetics

Scientists believe that 25 percent of obesity is linked to genetics as they continue their work to uncover obesity-related genes. Most children with two obese parents, or 85 percent, grow up obese.

Environment

Environmental and societal factors, such as the state you live in, your type of neighborhood, ability to buy and grow fresh fruits and vegetables, the health habits of your family and friends, access to parks, play grounds and trails and your annual income can all be factors.

Unsafe neighborhoods, an abundance of fast food eateries, low income and education levels, lack of sleep, high levels of stress and depression can also contribute to an unhealthy lifestyle. It’s no coincidence that the greatest health problems, such as diabetes and obesity, are found in states where physical activity rates rank among the lowest in the country and poverty levels are high: Alabama, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma and Tennessee.

Get Active!

Now that you put yourself to the test, the best way to achieve a healthy weight is to decrease your caloric intake and increase your activity level. Yes, you can lose weight by eating less, but real long-term weight loss is achieved through sensible eating and regular exercise. Consider this: For every pound of body weight lost through dieting alone, you lose both fat and muscle tissue—three quarters of a pound of fat tissue and one quarter of a pound of muscle tissue. For every pound lost through dieting and exercising, however, you lose more fat—one and a quarter of a pound—while gaining one-quarter of a pound of muscle.

Need Help to Start Exercising?

The majority of Americans want to lose weight, but often lack the motivation or perceived time to exercise.

Did you know that even three bouts of 10-minute-long daily moderate-level activity, such as brisk walking or walking uphill, can provide health benefits and put you on track for a healthier lifestyle?

To improve your health and maintain a healthy body weight, the government recommends 150 minutes of moderate-intensity cardiovascular activity (brisk walking, bicycling, dancing) over three sessions in a week in addition to at least two weekly strength-training sessions, working all major muscle groups.

Don’t know how to get started? An ACE-certified Personal Trainer in your region will be able to assess your fitness level, help you evaluate your body fat and body composition using multiple algorithms, and create a safe and effective training program to help you reach a healthy body weight and maintain it.

It's never too late to change unhealthy habits and get active. Remember, while the “pinch an inch” test around your waist line can point to a weight problem, it’s hardly an accurate measure of your health.


Marion Webb is the writer and editor for the American Council on Exercise and is an ACE-certified Personal Trainer and an ACE-certified Group Fitness Instructor. To leave comments, please share them below. For specific fitness-related story ideas, please e-mail her directly at marion.webb@acefitness.org.