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How to Create a USDA Weight-loss Plan

Healthy Weights and BMI

Top Reasons to Lose Weight
Losing even a few pounds can reduce your risk of health problems. You can look forward to LESS risk of:
  • Heart disease
  • High blood pressure
  • Elevated cholesterol and triglyceride levels
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Stroke
  • Certain cancers
  • Gallbladder disease
  • Respiratory problems
  • Joint pain and osteoarthritis
  • Gout
  • Sleep apnea
  • Premature death

The USDA Dietary Guidelines urge all Americans to achieve and maintain a body weight that optimizes their health. But how do you know how much you should weigh? Just as there is no magic weight-loss bullet, there's no magic number on the scale, either. But you can determine whether your weight and the amount of body fat you are carrying are within a range of weight that is optimal for your health. Once you've done that, you can go ahead and set a more specific goal weight.

There are two primary methods of measuring body fat, the Body Mass Index (BMI) and waist circumference. The USDA Dietary Guidelines recommend that you use both measures to assess your current weight and to monitor your weight whether you're in the weight-loss or maintenance phases of your weight-control plan.

Body Mass Index (BMI)
The Body Mass Index (BMI) is a measure of a person's weight in relation to height. But don't confuse it with the traditional height and weight tables that used to be on display in your physician's office. BMI is calculated with a formula, and it produces a number that indicates whether your weight falls into a range that's optimal for health. BMI is considered a more accurate measurement of body fat than weight alone in people 20 years of age or older. (For assessment of young people ages 2 to 19 years,visit

To calculate your BMI, weigh yourself first thing in the morning, wearing few or no clothes. Confirm your height and convert it to inches. Multiply your weight in pounds by 700 (using a calculator makes these computations quicker and easier). Divide this result by your height in inches. Then divide this result again by your height in inches. This number is your BMI. (You can also insert your height and weight into a BMI calculator at a Web site run by the Centers for Disease Control at:

Here's an example of BMI calculations for a 140-pound person who is 5 feet 6 inches tall:
140 (weight in pounds) X 700 = 98,000 divided by 66 (height in inches) = 1,484.85 divided by 66 (height in inches) = 22.49.

A BMI between 19 and 24.9 is considered to be in the healthy range and is associated with the least risk of heart disease or other health problems related to overweight. So the person in the example above is right in the middle of the healthy range. Health risks begin when BMI is 25.0 to 29.9. They become even greater when BMI is higher than 30.0.

If you have a BMI that puts you in the "obese" category, don't despair. There are health benefits to even a modest weight loss of ten pounds. And you can significantly reduce your health risks by losing just ten percent of your weight. The lifestyle changes you're about to make will automatically lower your health risks -- you're on the right path!

Even if your BMI places you in the healthy weight range, it's important to take steps to prevent weight gain, which happens as you age because of metabolic changes even if you continue to eat the same number of calories. Preventing weight gain by eating fewer calories as you get older is also critical to your health.

BMI Limitations
Although it's a good indicator of body fat and health risk, BMI measurement is not perfect. It can overestimate the amount of body fat in people who are very muscular, because muscle is more dense than fat. And it can underestimate the amount of body fat in people who have lost muscle mass, such as the elderly. Even so, BMI is the preferred method of assessing health risks related to weight and amount of body fat.

Watch Your Waist
If you're a male with a waist circumference of 40 inches or more or a woman with a waist bigger than 35 inches, you have an increased risk of developing the following:
  • Heart disease
  • High blood pressure
  • High blood cholesterol and/or triglycerides
  • Type 2 diabetes

Where's Your Fat At? -- Waist Circumference
In addition to BMI, it is also important to consider where you carry your extra weight. If fat tends to gather in your abdominal area, you may have increased health risks. Large stores of fat around the waist are associated with a risk of heart disease, diabetes, and some cancers for those who have a BMI of 35 or less. (Waist circumference does not indicate any additional risks for those with a BMI greater than 35.)

To measure waist circumference, place a tape measure around the top of the hip bone. This location may not be what you consider to be your natural waistline, since it is not the narrowest part of your midsection. However, it is the position where you will get the most accurate measure of your abdominal circumference and therefore the best indication of where fat is being stored. Pull the tape snuggly but not so tight that it indents the skin. Take the measurement after a normal exhalation of breath. Read the tape measure in inches. A waist circumference of 40 inches or more for men or 35 inches or more for women indicates that you are at greater risk of health problems, even if your BMI alone doesn't indicate that. Your waist circumference can put you in a high risk category when your BMI does not.

Now you know what your target weight should be, at least in general terms. In the next section, we will talk about setting a realistic weight-loss goal and answering the question -- what does it take to get there?


Body Mass Index
Category Health Risks
Less than 19.0
Risks not discussed here
19.0-24.9 Healthy weight
No risks unless waist circumference indicates risk
25.0-29.9 Overweight
Moderate risk
30.0 and greater
Obese High risk

This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.