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Do You Really Need to Lose Weight?

7 questions that can help you decide.
By
WebMD Feature

So your favorite jeans have gotten a bit too close-fitting for comfort. Maybe you don't cut quite the figure in your bathing suit that you did a few years ago.

But do you really need to lose weight? Are you putting your health in danger -- or just carrying around a little harmless extra padding?

The standard answer is that you're overweight if your body mass index (BMI) is 25 or higher and obese if your BMI is 30 or higher. But some new research is confusing the weight-and-health issue a bit.

A study published in the April 20 issue of The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) found that people whose BMIs put them into the overweight category actually had a lower risk of death than people in the normal-weight group. (People who were considered obese still had an increased risk of death.)

"When we looked at the overweight group … we found that that group was associated with fewer than the expected number of deaths," says study author David F. Williamson, PhD, senior epidemiologist at the Diabetes Division of the CDC. Does that mean that if you're overweight, but not obese, you should quit worrying about dropping the extra pounds? Experts who spoke to WebMD gave us some answers -- along with seven questions you should ask yourself.

  • What is your lifestyle? Regular physical activity and healthy eating are important, no matter what your weight or your BMI.
  • What is your family history? If a close relative has a history of high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, or other weight-related ailment, it's crucial to be mindful of your weight.
  • What is your weight history? People who have consistently gained weight over the years need be careful. Experts say your BMI should not increase dramatically, even as you age. Even moderate weight gain in adulthood can increase your risk of diabetes.
  • How is your weight distributed? Weight gained above the hips -- the so-called "apple" shape -- can be problematic. In both men and women, bigger abdomens can signal trouble.
  • What is your waist size? The National Institutes of Health has determined that a waist circumference of over 40 inches in men and over 35 inches in women signifies a health risk, particularly in people with BMIs of 25-34.9 (the overweight category). Clothing size is not a good indicator of weight or health, since sizes vary with different manufacturers. But you can use your own clothing -- maybe a favorite pair of pants -- as a personal gauge of your weight.
  • What is your health profile? If your cholesterol and blood pressure levels are high and your BMI falls into the overweight or obese category, it's important to lose weight. If your BMI is in the high end of healthy or in the low overweight range, it's a good idea to talk to your doctor about whether weight loss is right for you.
  • How do you feel? Seriously consider weight loss if you are overweight and have joint problems, shortness of breath, or other health troubles that limit your day-to-day living.
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