Measuring Body Mass

Updated February 21, 2017 | Factmonster Staff

Research suggests that the location of body fat also is an important factor in health risks for adults. Excess fat in the abdomen (stomach area) is a greater health risk than excess fat in the hips and thighs. Extra fat in the abdomen is linked to high blood pressure, diabetes, early heart disease, and certain types of cancer. Smoking and too much alcohol increase abdominal fat and the risk for diseases related to obesity. Vigorous exercise helps to reduce abdominal fat.

The easiest way to check your body fat distribution is to measure around your waistline with a tape measure and compare this with the measure around your hips or buttocks to see if your abdomen is larger. If you are in doubt, you may wish to seek advice from a health professional.

Although limiting fat intake may help to prevent excess weight gain in children, fat should not be restricted to children younger than two years of age. Helping overweight children to achieve a healthy weight along with normal growth requires more caution. Modest reductions in dietary fat, such as the use of lowfat milk are not hazardous. However, major efforts to change a child's diet should be accompanied by a monitoring of growth by a health professional at regular intervals.

No Increase in American Obesity But Levels Still High

Overweight and obesity continue to be an alarming public-health problem in the United States. Over 72 million adults in the United States are overweight or obese. Obesity and overweight substantially increase the risk of death from several diseases, including hypertension, type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease, stroke, gallbladder disease, and endometrial, breast, prostate, and colon cancers. Among U.S. adults aged 20-74 years, the prevalence of obesity increased over the last 25 years, but there has been no significant change since 2003-2004. In 2005-2006 33.3% of men and 35.3% of women were obese.

The percentage of children and adolescents who are defined as overweight has more than doubled since the early 1970s. About 15% of children and adolescents are now overweight.

Sources: National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute and Centers for Disease Control.
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