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Eating Well

Weight and Health

Many of us struggle endlessly with our weight. Approximately 61 percent of American adults are considered overweight or obese, regardless of age, gender, race, and ethnicity. An adult is called obese if her body mass index is 30 or higher.

The sedentary American lifestyle and the abundance of junk foods often contribute to unhealthy weight gain. Fast-food chains most negatively affect low-income communities. Women of lower socioeconomic status are 50 percent more likely to be above a recommended weight than women of higher socioeconomic status, and women of color are more likely to be above a recommended weight than non-Latina white women.16 Organic whole foods are often not an option for those on a tight budget.

Studies abound that link health problems to weight gain. According to the U.S. surgeon general, three hundred thousand Americans die each year from obesity-related problems, including heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, diabetes, and cancer. The Nurses Health Study at Harvard Medical School followed 115,000 nurses for nearly 20 years starting in 1976, and found that women who gained between 11 and 18 pounds over that time had a 25 percent increase in heart disease.17

Maintaining a healthy weight, particularly minimizing weight gain, is important for our overall well-being. However, the dangers of being fat may be overstated. Health problems may have as much to do with overall fitness as with weight. Few studies have controls for fat people who exercise regularly, or account for the stress on the body of yo-yo dieting.

The common prescription for being fat is to diet. However, weight loss diets are notoriously unsuccessful; the vast majority of people who lose weight regain it. Therefore, it is best to focus on eating well, exercising, and generally taking good care of yourself, regardless of what the scale says or how you compare to models in a magazine.

Excerpted from the 2005 edition of Our Bodies, Ourselves, © 2005, Boston Women's Health Book Collective.

16. Overweight and Obesity at a Glance, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, accessed September 2004.
17. JoAnn E. Manson, et al., Body Weight and Mortality Among Women, New England Journal of Medicine 333, no. 11 (September 14, 1995): 677-85.


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