March is National Nutrition Month, when the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics reminds everyone to return to the basics of healthy eating. It is also the time of year when the Academy celebrates expertise of registered dietitian nutritionists as the food and nutrition experts.
Your health and your weight are connected. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, if your body mass index falls into the range of overweight or obese, you are at a higher risk for the following diseases and conditions:
- Coronary heart disease
- Type 2 diabetes
- Cancers (endometrial, breast and colon)
- Hypertension or high blood pressure
- Dyslipidemia (high blood cholesterol, high blood triglycerides)
- Liver and gallbladder disease
- Sleep apnea and respiratory problems
- Osteoarthritis (degeneration of cartilage and its underlying bone within a joint)
- Gynecological problems for women (abnormal menstrual periods and infertility).
What Does "At Risk" Mean?
Being "at risk" means you are more likely to have a specific disease or condition than someone who has a BMI in the normal weight range. It does not mean you will get the disease.
BMI is one screening tool. (See Understanding Body Mass Index.) To assess your actual health risk, your health-care provider will look at many factors.
For example, if your doctor is concerned you might have a heart attack, he or she will want to know several things in addition to your BMI:
- Do you have a family history of heart disease?
- Do you smoke cigarettes?
- How much physical activity do you get every day?
- How much fat, saturated fat, fiber and sodium do you consume?
Your doctor also will likely run other tests, such as a blood pressure check and lab tests. Collecting all of this information is the only way to make an accurate assessment of your health risk and to diagnose a condition such as coronary artery disease.
Lifestyle Changes Make a Big Difference
If your doctor says your BMI is in the overweight range and you have high blood pressure, the doctor may prescribe medication and suggest you make changes in your lifestyle. You may be told to lose weight, change your diet and get more exercise.
Here's some really good news: Those lifestyle changes – eating smarter and moving more – will help lower your blood pressure no matter what happens with your weight. Since losing and then keeping weight off can be a challenge, it is reassuring to know lifestyle changes by themselves can reduce your risk; they can help you feel better too.