Women’s Health & Fitness: The Overweight Confusion

There are “overweight” women out there who have the same body fat percentage as that of normal weight or underweight women. Categorizing these overweight women as “obese” is physiologically incorrect. Obesity is not determined by your total weight alone. It is determined by excess body fat; more than normal. And what is considered a normal body fat percentage? There isn’t an exact number. However there is an approximate percentage set to help women keep track of their health. One must note that this healthy body fat percentage may not be applicable to all. That is because every woman is genetically predisposed to a certain percentage of body fat along with many other differences, such as anthropometry, age, hormonal milieu, muscle mass, etc. A healthy body fat percentage for women is set in the range of 25 % – 31%, and above 32% is considered obese.

And now the interesting part… a woman may be well above 32% body fat and yet be healthy, while another woman with the same body fat may have health issues. Similarly one woman with body fat that is around 18% may never have any problems, while the same 18% body fat in another woman may result in serious health concerns. See the problem here? “Body weight” is not the only criteria to diagnose somebody’s poor or good health. There are many overweight women who are healthy, and there are also many overweight women who are unhealthy. Similarly there are many underweight women who are healthy and also many underweight women who are unhealthy. A lot of normal weight women have health issues too. Normal weight women have suffered cerebrovascular accidents (Stroke), myocardial infarctions (Heart Attack), type II diabetes, etc. What went wrong with the health of these women? They maintained a normal weight that is considered healthy, and yet suffered from serious illnesses, and also death: why? When you go to a nutritionist for a weight loss program, is this ever conveyed to you? All that is told to you is to follow a low calorie diet “designed” specifically for you. Does your doctor discuss this with you? All that is told to you is “lose weight”. Does your fitness trainer discuss this with you? All that is told you is to eat less and exercise more. And if you did come across somebody who discusses this with you, please do yourself a favor and keep taking guidance from that professional.

Good health is a result of physiological homeostasis. Which simply means all the functions of your organs ought to be in balance; blood pressure, blood glucose, thyroid hormones, sex hormones, bone density, muscle mass, etc. And unfortunately, healthy weight is not synonymous to normal physiological functions. This is not to say that you’re not supposed to maintain what is considered healthy body fat percentage. The purpose of this article is to educate you so that you keep yourself from being drawn into the whirlpool of the conflicting information put out by the vast majority of fitness organizations and professionals.

Excess visceral fat has a more deleterious influence on health than subcutaneous fat. Visceral fat is the fat around the vital organs and subcutaneous fat is the fat that is under the skin. So is it advisable to keep a check on your visceral fat? Yes it is. However, accurate measurements of visceral fat are challenging. Computed tomography (CT) has been considered the gold standard for measuring visceral fat. CT generates a series of high resolution cross-sectional X-ray images through which visceral fat is identified. One should also note that CT scans have considerable radiation exposure. Alternatively, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) can also measure visceral fat and has no radiation. Both methods are relatively expensive and limited accessibility confines their usefulness and widespread application.

Dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry (DXA) has been used to measure whole-body composition and fat distribution in heterogeneous populations over several decades. It has been explored to estimate abdominal visceral fat since the mid-90s. Most of these studies have established equations to estimate visceral fat area or volume with DXA-derived body composition variables combined with selective anthropometry parameters. Here’s the study if you’re interested in reading related data.

Take home information

  • Women (and men) are genetically predisposed to a certain percentage of body fat along with many other differences, such as anthropometry, hormonal milieu, muscle mass, etc. All of these factors make up the total body weight.
  • A lot of women are healthy even though they are categorized as obese. Many normal weight women suffer from many health conditions such as type II diabetes, but their body weight categorizes them as healthy.
  • A lot of normal weight women are suffering from illnesses that are otherwise considered a consequence of obesity.
  • Health is determined by many factors, not just the body weight. Increasing subcutaneous body fat is an indirect guideline reminding you of the negative consequences of gaining the more deleterious visceral fat.
  • Good health is determined by the balance in the functions of all the organs of our body. Not all overweight women have high body fat percentage, and not all normal weight women have healthy body fat percentage.
  • How much of your total body weight consists of muscle mass is crucial to maintaining a healthy body fat percentage.
  • Eating nutritious meals and engaging in physical tasks/physical training improves and maintains good health. Many health issues are caused due to genetic predisposition, and these genetic predispositions may be exacerbated by poor nutrition and sedentary lifestyle.
  • From a physical training stand point, for better health, focusing on optimal training methods such as barbell training to maintain muscle tissue and bone tissue ought to be of the utmost importance. Both these tissues are responsible for all other physical activities.
  • Without optimal bone and muscle mass there cannot be optimal movements. Without optimal movements there cannot be optimal physical exercise, and without optimal exercise there cannot be optimal health. Make this your training priority, not just the total body weight.
  • In the presence of optimal physical training and nutritious meals, maintaining normal body fat percentage is a good guideline to maintaining good health.

Hope this article helped you to understand the confusing correlation between good health and total body weight. Those who think this article may help somebody you know, please share it with them. If you have any questions or feedback, do comment.

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