Karen Collins, MS, RD, CDN
American Institute for Cancer Research
Q: I’m overweight and I know that puts me at risk for lots of health problems. How much weight do I need to lose for my health?
A: Maybe not as much as you think. But you’re right – excess body fat increases risk of type 2 diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, some forms of arthritis and gout, and several forms of cancer. The burden of excess weight loads seems to increase risk of sleep apnea and some types of arthritis and to promote urinary incontinence in women. However, for virtually all of these, achieving at least a five-percent weight loss can make a medically significant difference, even if in some cases weight loss may not be able to make health problems, such as type 2 diabetes, completely disappear. For someone who weighs 250 pounds, he’ll start seeing benefits with a loss of less than 15 pounds; for someone who weighs 180 pounds, a loss of 10 pounds can make a difference. In most cases, health improves even more with a 10 to 15 percent weight loss, which might mean 15 to 40 pounds, depending on starting weight. For many of these health risks, at least for a few years, you continue to benefit from the weight loss, even if some weight is regained. However, whether it’s the effects of excess body fat promoting insulin resistance and inflammation, or the mechanical burden of supporting a large weight load, it makes sense that the goal needs to be more than just losing weight, but also keeping it off in order to retain the health improvements achieved. So don’t get frustrated by setting a weight loss target that might be unreachable without extreme measures. Instead, work one day at a time to establish a few changes in food choices, portions and exercise habits with the intent of finding ways to make them permanent parts of your lifestyle.
The American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) is the cancer charity that fosters research on the relationship of nutrition, physical activity and weight management to cancer risk, interprets the scientific literature and educates the public about the results. It has contributed more than $96 million for innovative research conducted at universities, hospitals and research centers across the country. AICR has published two landmark reports that interpret the accumulated research in the field, and is committed to a process of continuous review. AICR also provides a wide range of educational programs to help millions of Americans learn to make dietary changes for lower cancer risk. Its award-winning New American Plate program is presented in brochures, seminars and on its website, www.aicr.org. AICR is a member of the World Cancer Research Fund International.