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Controlling your weight

Controlling and maintaining your weight within a healthy range for your height.

Controlling your weight
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An essential part of a healthy lifestyle is maintaining your body weight within the range considered normal for your height. In recent decades, the number of overweight people in developed countries has risen significantly. For example, between 1980 and 1997, the number of overweight men in the UK rose from around 1 in 16 to around 1 in 6, and the number of overweight women has increased from around 1 in 12 to 1 in 5. Approximately 1 in 50 primary school children and 1 in 10 children of secondary school age are above the healthy weight range for their height. Excess weight amounting to obesity is a major threat to health. Disorders associated with being obese, such as coronary artery disease, high blood pressure (see Hypertension), and stroke, rank among the leading causes of illness and death in developed countries such as the UK. Being underweight can also cause health problems, including an increased risk of infertility and the bone disorder osteoporosis.

Causes of weight problems

In the UK, the main factor contributing to the general weight gain of the population is lack of exercise combined with overeating. Children's pastimes are far more sedentary than those of former generations, and many adults do not exercise at all. In addition, an increasing number of people rely on convenience foods, which tend to be high in saturated fat and simple carbohydrates, both of which are high in calories. There are various reasons why someone may be underweight. Some people are naturally thin and find it difficult to gain weight no matter what they eat. Others start within the normal weight range but then develop an eating disorder, such as anorexia nervosa or bulimia, and lose a great deal of weight, eventually becoming abnormally thin. Weight loss can also result from loss of appetite due to long-term illness such as depression, tuberculosis, or rheumatoid arthritis.

Finding your ideal weight

Height and weight charts offer a quick and easy way to find out whether you are within the recommended weight range for your height. Your ideal body weight depends on both your height and on the amount of muscle tissue you have. For example, an athlete should weigh more than a healthy but relatively sedentary person of the same height. This is because exercise increases muscle, which is heavier than other types of body tissue. For this reason, the charts provide healthy ranges for height and not precise measurements.

Recent research indicates that the distribution of fat around the body is an important determinant of health. Excess fat around the abdomen is more closely linked to cardiovascular diseases than fat elsewhere in the body. To find out whether you are a healthy weight, you should both check if your weight falls within the recommended range for your height and measure your waist size (see Are you a healthy weight?).

Doctors and dietitians use weight and height measurements to calculate body mass index (BMI). This is a widely accepted and more precise method of checking if you are over- or underweight by providing an indication of total body fat content. The BMI is calculated by dividing a person's weight in kilograms by the square of his or her height in metres. A BMI figure under 20 means that you are underweight, while a figure of 25 or more is an indication that you are overweight.

Posted 30.06.2010

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