Reaching and maintaining a healthy weight for women is becoming more and more important. Over one-third of American women are deemed “obese” by the CDC, and many others are classified as “overweight." Contrary to the belief that it is normal for a woman to gain “natural” weight as she ages, the CDC measures body fat for all women over the age of 20 by the same standards.
Adults 20 and Over
Normal body weight for males and females aged 20 and over is defined by the CDC with its Body Mass Index (BMI). Normal BMI is between 18.5 and 24.9 (see Reference 1). BMI is calculated through a comparison of height to weight. Check the resources for the CDC’s online BMI calculator. A BMI under 18.5 signifies a person is underweight, while 25 to 29.9 means someone is overweight. A BMI of 30 or over classifies a person as obese.
Children and Teens
For people under 20, the same formula is used, but the BMI is compared against other BMIs for people of the same gender, height and age in months. Those who fall within the fifth to under the 85th percentile are considered to have normal weight. Those below the fifth percentile are considered underweight, and those from the 85th to 95th percentile are considered overweight. Children and teens over the 95th percentile are considered obese (see reference 3). Look for the CDC’s specialized BMI calculator for children and teens in the resources.
The high percentage of obese adult women in the U.S. was enough to drive the CDC to make “the prevention of obesity one if its top public health priorities” in 2007. At the same time, a high percentage of teenage girls display tendencies characteristic of eating disorders, which come with their own inherent risks. Both of these facts demonstrate the importance of properly educating women on healthy weight and the maintenance of it with proper diet and exercise.
In 2005, the CDC reported that both underweight and obese people were at a heightened risk for death. While overweight people are at a risk for heart disease, high blood pressure, and type 2 diabetes, underweight people are at risk for anemia, osteoporosis, and, for women, infertility. These risks are what help the CDC determine the “ideal” weight, which places a person equally distant from both extremes. A normal BMI will lead to a longer, healthier life.
According to the CDC, “for most people, BMI is a reliable indicator of body fatness.” The word “most” suggests that there are some exceptions, and this is definitely true. Some people have heavier or lighter body types than the BMI calculation accounts for, and may be perfectly healthy though classified outside of the “normal” range. If you are concerned about your weight, ask your doctor.