Waisted: Abdominal obesity and your health

Published: January, 2009

"How much should I weigh, doc?"

It's a common question, and an important one. It's common because about two-thirds of all Americans weigh more than they should. It's important because excess weight has serious consequences for health. Obesity is responsible for high levels of LDL ("bad") cholesterol and triglycerides. At the same time, it lowers HDL ("good") cholesterol. It impairs the body's responsiveness to insulin, raising blood sugar and insulin levels. And the consequences go far beyond an unflattering figure and a worrisome metabolic profile: obesity contributes to major causes of death and disability, including heart attacks, strokes, high blood pressure, cancer, diabetes, osteoarthritis, fatty liver, and depression.

All in all, obesity and lack of exercise are responsible for about 1,000 deaths in the U.S. each day. Faced with these risks, it's no wonder that you want to know how much you should weigh. But this common and important question is actually the wrong question. For health, the issue is not how much you weigh, but how much abdominal fat you have.

To continue reading this article, you must log in.
  • Research health conditions
  • Check your symptoms
  • Prepare for a doctor's visit or test
  • Find the best treatments and procedures for you
  • Explore options for better nutrition and exercise

New subscriptions to Harvard Health Online are temporarily unavailable. Click the button below to learn about our other subscription offers.

Learn More »