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Lifting weight myths.

You'd think people would know a lot more about weight, considering how much energy most of us spend worrying about it. Yet how many of you can pick out the one statement among the following three that's false?

1. It's easier for men to lose weight than women.

2. Gaining weight in your belly is more dangerous than gaining weight in your thighs.

3. It's better to gain weight as you get older.

Not easy, huh? The only false one is number 3. Actually, there are a ton of false ones. So read on, as we explode some common misconceptions about weight and weight-loss:

Myth: Americans are getting leaner.

Truth: We're getting fatter. Despite health clubs on every corner, swarms of people out jogging, weight-loss centers in shopping malls and hospitals, and all the new low-calorie and low-fat foods, the percentage of Americans who are overweight is increasing. That's especially true for people who are already overweight and for younger women. People who aren't overweight are most likely to become so between the ages of 34 and 45.

Myth:The most unhealthy thing about being overweight is the stress it puts on your heart.

Truth: That's only one of your troubles. Excess weight raises insulin levels, which can lead to diabetes and high blood pressure. It also raises LDL ("bad") cholesterol and lowers HDL ("good") cholesterol, and that means an increased risk of heart disease.

What's more, if you're obese (see "My, Oh, BMI"), your body's hormonal balance could be thrown out of whack. If you're a woman, that increases your risk of breast and endornetrial cancer and menstrual irregularities. And everyone runs a greater risk of developing gallstones, arthritis, and even sleep disorders.

Perhaps the most unhealthy thing about being overweight is that you don't feel like exercising. And that's a real killer.

Myth: A pound is a pound, whether it's on my hips or my belly.

Truth: Extra weight in the chest and belly is far more unhealthy than extra weight around the hips and thighs. Hip and thigh fat is stable. Once it's there, it tends to stay put. Belly and chest fat is more active. It can end up in your liver, where it can raise your insulin level, blood pressure, and cholesterol. It can also lead to breast and endometrial cancer.

It's not all bad news for big-bellied folks, though. Their kind of weight is a lot easier to take off.

Myth: So what if I'm putting on weight? I'm getting older.

Truth: You'll probably live longer if you don't gain weight as you age. "Skinny [healthy] people die at the slowest rates," is how William Castelli puts it. According to Castelli's Framingham Heart Study, people who weigh anywhere from 11 percent to 20 percent below the average weight for people of their height have the lowest risk of death.(1)

Myth: I'll never lose enough weight to improve my health.

Truth. A few pounds can make a big difference. For example, for every two pounds of excess weight you lose, your blood cholesterol drops by an average of three points.(2) That's nothing to sneeze at.

Losing weight can help your blood pressure, too. In studies, people were able to bring their high blood pressure down to normal(3)--some even went off medication(4)--after losing as few as nine pounds. And losing nine pounds cut in half the risk of "high-normal" blood pressure becoming "high."(5) ("High-normal" means a diastolic pressure--the lower number--between 80 and 89.)

Myth: A calorie is a calorie, whether it comes from a carrot or a mound of whipped cream.

Truth: All calories are not created equal. The calories from fatty foods are more likely to make you fat than the calories from carbohydrates or protein.

Myth: Men and women have an equally hard time losing weight.

Truth: Men lose weight more easily than women, whether through diet or exercise. That's because men tend to be fat in their chests and bellies. And upper-body fat comes off far easier than lower-body fat. But some men and women have difficulty losing weight no matter what they do. Their genes have made them extra efficient at storing calories.

Myth: Who needs exercise? I'm dieting.

Truth: You need both. Most people are unable to shed more than about seven pounds through exercise alone. It's particularly tough for women. Studies show that they eat more when they're exercising regularly (men eat less).(6) For men and women to lose serious weight they've got to eat fewer calories, particularly rat calories...and work out.

Myth: Losing weight is a killer.

Truth: Actually, the toughest part is keeping it off. People in supervised weight programs like those in hospitals or health clubs typically can lose ten percent or more of their body weight. Unfortunately, they put just about all of it back on in less than five years.

But exercise--both during and after dieting--can help keep the weight off, according to Abby King and Diane Tribble of the Stanford Center for Research in Disease Prevention in Palo Alto, California. And that can get people off the yo-yo diet treadmill. There is some evidence that losing, then regaining, then re-losing weight makes it harder to take pounds off--and easier to put them back on--later.(7)

Myth: Who cares about flabby arms? I've got to get rid of these thighs.

Truth: Exercise and diet can melt away fat, but you can't target specific areas. Women tend to lose fat from all over, while men lose it from their bellies and chests. That's just the way it happens.

1. Journal of the American Medical Association 249: 2199, 1983.

2. American journal of Clinical Nutrition 56: 320, 1992.

3. New England journal of Medicine 298: 1, 1978.

4. Journal of the American Medical Association 253: 657, 1985.

5. Journal of the American Medical Association 267: 1213, 1992.

6. Sports Medicine 15: 299, 1993.

7. Annals of Internal Medicine 116: 942, 1992.

Getting Waist-to-Hip

Are you an apple or a pear?

Most men are apples. They're wider around the belly and chest. Most women are pears. They're wider around the hips and thighs. Apples have a far greater risk of developing heart disease and high blood pressure, high blood sugar, and high insulin. Sadly, the only thing about them that's lower is their HDL ("good") cholesterol. And what do pears suffer more from? Varicose veins and problems in the knees, which have to support their heavier hips.

You can't go from being an apple to being a pear or vice versa. But since most people lose weight from their upper bodies faster than from their lower bodies, you can become less of an apple or a thinner pear simply by taking off a few pounds. Your goal should be to have a waist-to-hip ratio below 0.95 (women) or 0.85 (men). Here's how to measure yours. All you'll need is a tape measure.

Using this chart, make a mark along the left-hand scale next to your waist measurement (it's the smallest measurement below your rib cage and above your belly button). Then make another mark along the right-hand scale next to your hip measurement (it's the largest measurement around the widest part of your fanny). Draw a line connecting the marks. The point at which the line crosses the Waist-to-Hip Ratio scale down the middle of the chart is your ratio.

My, Oh, BMI

For years, researchers have been using the body mass index (BMI) of their subjects to help predict, among other things, how likely they are to develop certain diseases...or even for how long they're likely to live. T. he Canadian armed forces now use the BMI instead of weight in assessing the health of their members. And the National Institutes of Health have told U.S. doctors to use it, too.

So what is this magic number?

Your BMI is your weight--in kilograms--divided by the square of your height--in meters. (Don't worry, we've converted it to pounds and inches.) Because the BMI takes into account how tall you are, it's more useful than just weight in figuring out if you're too fat.

Here's how to determine your BMI. Using this chart, make a mark next to your weight (without clothes) along the left-hand scale. Then make another mark next to your height (without shoes) along the right-hand scale. Draw a line connecting the marks. The point at which the line crosses the Body Mass Index scale down the middle of the chart is your BMI.

WHAT YOUR BMI MEANS 20 to :25: You're doing something right. People in this group live the longest. 26 to 10: You're overweight, and have an increased risk of developing high levels of blood cholesterol, blood pressure, blood glucose, and blood insulin. Above 30: Consider yourself obese. That makes you more susceptible to diabetes, coronary heart disease, cancer, and diseases of the digestive tract. Below 10: You're fine...if you're in good physical shape and if you aren't suffering from a disease--like cancer--that's causing you to be underweight.
COPYRIGHT 1993 Center for Science in the Public Interest
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1993, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:includes related articles on waist-to-hip ratio and body mass index; misconceptions about weight gain and weight loss
Author:Schardt, David
Publication:Nutrition Action Healthletter
Date:Oct 1, 1993
Previous Article:The heart of the matter.
Next Article:No matter how you slice 'em.

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