Why Weight is the Worst Indicator of Health
When it comes to what makes a healthy life, the number on the scale carries no weight
If you’re like most people living in the world today, you probably think that to be overweight is to be diabetic, at risk of heart disease, and a host of other ailments, that those extra pounds are evidence of an unhealthy life. And that if someone is “normal weight,” (whatever that is), that they are the picture of a healthy life. But the truth is that when it comes to understanding your health, putting too much weight on how much you weigh is a mistake.
Why weight is wack
Here’s the deal: weight measures body size, not health, and tells us nothing about the absence or presence of disease. The real data lies inside our bodies and can’t be detected on your bathroom scale. That’s because health is holistic. The physical, mental, emotional, biological, and behavioral aspects of health all deserve equal consideration. You have to look at multiple metrics in order to really understand what’s going on with your body. Higher weights don't always correlate with high cholesterol or blood pressure. And lower weights don't always indicate low blood pressure and low cholesterol.
In fact, when researchers compared body weight to cardiovascular risk factors such as cholesterol, blood pressure, and blood glucose, they found that:
- Half of the adults in the U.S. (~35.9 million) are classified as “overweight” and are actually metabolically healthy.
- Additionally, one-third of US adults (~ 19.5 million adults) are classified as obese and are metabolically healthy.
That’s over 50 million individuals currently categorized as “unhealthy” simply based on a flash judgment of their body shape and size, when in reality their cholesterol, blood pressure, and blood glucose are all at healthy levels.
- Conversely, one in every four adults classified as “normal weight” were actually found to have an unhealthy metabolic profile.
This means 16.3 million adults who are at risk and in need of medical guidance and support are actually being overlooked, simply because of their smaller body size. Using weight as an indicator of health 1) mislabels millions of individuals as unhealthy and 2) overlooks millions of individuals who are actually metabolically unhealthy and in need of support.
If body weight is a bogus measure of health, why do we continue to use it?
For one, it’s easy and affordable, no tests or special equipment required. It also fits the narrative of diet culture and social norms that endorse thin privilege and fatphobia. As long as researchers, health care professionals, policymakers, and the wellness industry continue to use weight and Body Mass Index (BMI) as a primary health outcome, we will continue to be misled into thinking it’s fair and accurate to judge someone’s health based on the size of their body. That’s why there is a dire need for changing the metrics used to measure health and define wellbeing.
Judging someone’s health based on their weight only amplifies weight stigma, which causes social and emotional harm, triggers dangerous behaviors such as extreme dieting and eating disorders and can lead people who feel fat-shamed to avoid getting health care.
An emphasis on weight also forces people to fight a battle they simply can’t win (emerging research reveals that weight is highly influenced by genetics). This sets dieters up for failure, leaves them feeling frustrated and discouraged, while drastically dampening their happiness and quality of life. It’s also a distraction from the most effective path to good health—habits.
It’s not the weight that counts, it's what you do
The truth is, you can’t directly control your weight, but you can directly control your actions, and there’s no better predictor of health than your behavior. This study, which demonstrated that fitness level is a better predictor of health than weight proves just that. It shows that regardless of how much you weigh, you can improve your health through life-enhancing habits like regular physical activity, adequate sleep, mitigating stress, cultivating strong and loving connections with friends and family, and eating wholesome, high-quality foods. The best part is that you can start doing all of these health-promoting acts of self-care right now, regardless of your shape or size.