Harvard Health Letter

Is overweight okay?

The percentage of Americans who are obese has more than doubled since the 1960s. In 1960, about 13% of Americans were obese, defined as having a body-mass index (BMI) of 30 or more. (For most people, a BMI of 30 means being about 30 pounds overweight.)

Now over 30% of the population weighs enough to be considered obese. Experts agree that this is terrible news for the country's health. Obesity greatly increases the risk of diabetes, gallbladder disease, heart disease, high blood pressure, and several types of cancer (colon, esophageal, kidney, and postmenopausal breast cancer).

But what about being just a few pounds overweight? Certainly the trend line isn't as dramatic. In 1960, about 31.5% of Americans could be classified as being overweight, defined as a BMI of between 25 and 29.9. That percentage has crept up by just a few points, to about 34%. Meanwhile, research has caused some confusion about whether being overweight (as opposed to obese) is really all that bad for you.

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