Nearly 65 million women age 20 and older in the United States are overweight or obese—but in many cases overweight and obesity can be controlled with a few simple lifestyle changes. By knowing the weight that is healthiest for you and taking small steps to reach it, you can lead a heart healthy life.

What does overweight and obesity mean?

Maintain a healthy weight

Your healthy weight is based on your height, age, and other factors. Excess weight may come from muscle, bone, fat, or body water. Overweight means you weigh more than you should to be healthy. Obesity refers specifically to having too much body fat.

A higher weight or too much body fat increases your chances of developing high blood pressure, diabetes, and high cholesterol—all of which are risk factors for heart disease. In addition, excess body fat—especially abdominal fat—may produce substances that cause inflammation, which may raise heart disease risk. Obesity can also lead to congestive heart failure, a condition in which the heart can’t pump enough blood to meet your body’s needs.

What causes overweight and obesity?

Many factors can affect your weight, including:

  • Eating more than your body needs to function healthfully.
  • Lack of physical activity.
  • Environment, including a stressful work schedule, lack of access to healthy foods, and lack of access to appropriate spaces for physical activity
  • Family history and genetics.
  • Health conditions, such as an underactive thyroid, and certain medicines.
  • Advancing age.
  • Lack of sleep.
  • Emotional factors, such as eating when you are bored, happy, depressed, or upset.

How healthy is your weight?

The most commonly used method of determining if your weight is considered healthy is the body mass index (BMI), which is an index of weight adjusted for your height.

A BMI of 25.0 to 29.9 is considered overweight. A BMI of 30.0 or greater is considered obese. If your BMI is above 25, follow up with your doctor to evaluate your weight status and associated health risks.

Another factor in determining a healthy weight is your waist circumference. Fat deposits, especially around the abdomen, are an important independent risk factor for developing coronary artery disease. The ideal waist circumference for women is 35 inches or less.

You can measure your waist easily by wrapping a non-elastic measuring tape around your waist (above your belly button). Make sure that the tape is snug, does not squeeze your skin, and is parallel to the floor.

How can weight be controlled?

Many factors can cause you to be overweight or obese. Fortunately, you can do a lot to get your weight under control. Taking these steps will also lower your risk of heart disease and lead you on the path to a healthier life.

Remember, you don’t have to do everything at once! Even small changes can make a big difference to your heart.

  • Know your numbers. Comparing your Body Mass Index and waist circumference to a healthy range will help you discover whether you need to lose weight or don’t want to gain any more.
  • Record your progress: Write down what you eat, what exercises you do, and how much weight you lose. Try weighing yourself only once or twice a week at the same time of day to accurately track your weight.
  • Eat heart healthy foods. Your food choices influence your weight. Eating lots of fruits and vegetables and paying attention to portions can have a big impact. Learn more about choosing heart healthy foods.
  • Avoid skipping meals or going on fad diets. These methods may lead to more rapid weight loss, but people who resort to these methods are also more likely to gain the weight back, and more.
  • Watch your portion sizes. One way to work on eating smaller portions is to eat on smaller plates and avoid going back for second helpings.
  • Get moving. Physical activity can help keep your weight under control and your heart strong. There are plenty of easy ways to incorporate physical activity into your day – let us help you get active.
  • Manage your medications. If you take medications, including over-the-counter drugs, they can affect your weight. Be sure to take them as directed.
  • Relax. Controlling your stress supports healthy eating and exercise habits. Get the facts on stress and take a look at Sister to Sister’s 7 Steps to Less Stress.
  • Build a support system. Losing weight is easier when you do it with a partner. Find a family member or friend who also wants to reach a healthier weight and tackle it together. If you prefer to lose weight alone, it’s still important to engage your family and friends in supporting your changes. Visit the Sister to Sister online community to find how other women are motivating themselves and losing weight wisely.

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