Do you wonder what your body’s ideal weight actually is? Dozens of formulas based on research have been designed to calculate an ideal, healthy weight, but most people have their own idea about how many pounds that should be. A recent study has found that most people probably think their ideal weight is lower than what is considered healthy. This perception could be why the study also found that most people are unhappy with their weight.
What’s your BMI?
The most well known, and most maligned, metric for assessing a healthy—or normal weight—is body mass index (BMI). The BMI formula, which was designed in the 1830s by Belgian mathematician Lambert Adolphe Jacques Quetelet, is a person’s weight in kilograms divided by the square of their height in meters. For example, someone who is 5’-10” (1.8 meters), 160 pounds (73 kg) has a BMI of 22.5. Normal BMI is considered to be from 18.5 to 24.9. BMI below that range is underweight. Above that range is overweight. BMI 30 and above is considered obese.
Researchers at the University of Helsinki have found that most people who want to lose weight believe the ideal weight they are trying to reach is unrealistic. Based on the BMI concept, women especially believed their ideal weight was significantly below a healthy weight. What’s more, these unrealistic expectations work against them, and reduce their chances of success.
The study, published in the journal Obesity, analyzed data from the FinnTwin 16 study, a project involving nearly 5,000 Finnish men and women. Participants answered questions about their actual body weight and their perceived ideal weight at age 24 and again a decade later.
Weight gain in your future?
Most of them were unhappy with their weight at age 24 and thought it should be less. Of those with normal BMI, 20 percent of the men and 13 percent of the women were fine with that. Those women who were happy with their weight were nearly underweight, with BMI averaging about 19. Whether they were comfortable in their own skin or not, nearly all participants gained weight over ten years. Women gained an average of 11 pounds and men gained average of 14 pounds.
This weight gain may have not been an issue for those who were happy about their weight to begin with. Ten extra pounds for woman with a BMI of 19 is likely to leave her well within the normal range.
What’s your ideal weight?
BMI has been widely criticized as a measure of healthy weight. After all, it was invented in the 1830s and humans are different animals now that we were then. Another formula widely used among dietitians and exercise scientists is the G.J. Hamwi formula for ideal weight, created in 1964. The Hamwi formula starts by matching the first 60 inches in height with 100 pounds for women and 106 pounds for men. For every inch above 60, add five pounds for women and six pounds for men. The ideal weight for our hypothetical person above is 166 pounds for a man and 150 pounds for a woman.
Hamwi’s ideal weight is a little more forgiving than Quetelet’s BMI, but each formula is still fairly close. Information about your body composition is the best way to know you’re at a healthy weight. Body composition involves either your body fat percentage or waist-to-hip ratio (WHR). Most people don’t have ready access to a body fat assessment, which requires either a skilled health care professional using calipers to pinch skin folds, or technology called bioelectrical impedence analysis.
What’s your WHR?
The beauty of WHR is that all you need as a tape measure. It also has nothing to do with how much you weigh. Measure your waist just above your navel, level with the top of your hipbone. Then measure you hips at their widest point, usually where your butt sticks out the most behind you. Divide your waist circumference by your hip circumference.
Men with a WHR less than 0.9, and women with a WHR less than 0.8 are probably healthy and may feel relieved that they can stop worrying about their weight so much. Those with WHRs higher than those thresholds may want to whittle them down by making healthy food choices and exercising more.
Medical News Today
Harvard School of Public Health