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Can You Be Fit and Fat?

Find out what's most important for your health

WebMD Weight Loss Clinic - Expert Column

When you see an overweight fellow on the golf course, do you assume he couldn't possibly be physically fit?

Before you answer, consider this: Research suggests that just because someone is overweight, it doesn't mean he or she is not fit or healthy.

So what exactly does it mean to be fit and fat, and which is more important to good health? Read on for some answers.

How Good Is the BMI?

The body mass index (BMI) has replaced the old height and weight charts as the most widely used tool to assess whether someone is at a healthy body weight. Both men and women use the same formula, a ratio of height to weight that helps assess whether they are underweight, normal weight, or overweight.

For most people, the BMI is a good assessment of body fat, overweight, and health risk. But the BMI may not be accurate for those who are muscular, of short stature, or elderly. For instance, someone who is 5 feet 10 inches and 220 pounds with 12% body fat would be considered obese based on BMI standards. Obviously, someone with 12% body fat is not obese.

To determine your risk for obesity-related diseases such as type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease, the BMI is best considered along with waist circumference. To reduce the risk of obesity-related diseases, people with BMIs of 25-29.9 (overweight) and 30-34.9 (level 1 obese) should have waist sizes no more than 35 inches for women and 40 inches for men (for people with BMIs over 35, the waist measurement is not a valid marker of risk factors).

How to Be Overweight and Healthy

Yes, you can be overweight and healthy, according to the National Institutes of Health's 1998 report, Clinical Guidelines on the Identification, Evaluation and Treatment of Overweight and Obesity in Adults.

People who are overweight can be considered healthy if their waist size is less than 35 inches for women or 40 inches for men, and if they do not have two or more of the following conditions:

  • High blood pressure
  • High blood sugar
  • High cholesterol

The guidelines point out that overweight people should not gain additional weight, and, preferably, should lose a few pounds. Other risk factors, such as smoking, also affect whether a person is considered healthy.

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