What Is A Healthy Weight?
Here’s how to know if you’re in the healthy range for BMI and body fat percentage
It’s all too easy to get obsessed with your weight, and it’s never a good idea to set your mood for the day based on the numbers on your scales in the morning. Unfortunately it’s equally easy to completely ignore what you weigh as well.
The worrying fact is that, according to 2018’s NHS Health Survey, almost two-thirds (63%) of adults in England are overweight or obese based on their BMI, and the rising rates of childhood obesity are also a cause for concern. That’s because the health risks associated with being overweight or obese is long and startling, with an increased risk of heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and certain cancers all linked to a BMI that’s higher than it should be according to guidelines.
To lessen those risks you need to fall into a healthy weight range, which can be based on one of several factors including BMI. We’ll come to the different ways you can check whether you’re a healthy weight below, but whatever method you use, it’s important to recognise that the overall trends are what matter. Your weight will naturally fluctuate day to day, and even at different times of day, and these fluctuations can be considerable so don’t break out the champagne or despair on the basis of one reading alone.
Below you’ll find three ways to judge whether you are a healthy weight. Congratulations if you are, keep it up, but if you’re not don’t start panicking. We have lots of ways to help you start exercising more and eating healthily, starting with these expert weight-loss tips, followed by how to reduce body fat.
What Is A Healthy Weight?
There are three main ways to determine whether or not you are a healthy weight, but none of them are perfect. That said, if you have a decent handle on all three, you’ll be able to make a sensible call.
Body mass index (BMI) has long been established as the go-to option for public health bodies. BMI provides a simple score based on your height, weight, age and gender, which then classifies you in one of five brackets – underweight, normal weight, overweight, obese or very obese.
There are some problems with using BMI as the only indicator of whether you are a healthy weight, but it is undoubtedly a useful measurement, so is a good starting point when looking to see if your own weight is in the healthy range. Head to the Healthy Weight Calculator on the NHS website (opens in new tab) and put in your details to get your own BMI score.
A BMI of anywhere between 18.5 and 25 is considered in the healthy range. Below 18.5 is underweight, 25 to 30 is overweight, 30 to 40 is obese and above 40 is very or morbidly obese.
The main issue with BMI is that it doesn’t consider what the weight is made up of – i.e. fat or muscle – so you can be classed as overweight when actually you’re a muscle-bound Adonis. If that is the case, however, you’ll probably be able to hazard a guess at whether you’re in decent shape regardless of what your BMI says.
2. Body fat percentage
To counter this issue with BMI you can also measure your body fat percentage, which will make it clear if the weight you’re carrying is due to bulging biceps or a beer belly. Body fat percentage can be measured with callipers or smart scales at home or, for a far more precise (and expensive) measurement, you can get a dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry (DEXA) measurement.
If using smart scales in particular, be aware that the measurements can vary wildly over the course of even just a few minutes, so it’s best to always use these scales at a specific time of day to identify trends in your body fat over time rather than worrying over a one-off figure.
What’s considered a healthy body fat percentage varies by age and gender, and you’ll often also find different brackets for what’s considered normal in different places. The NHS doesn’t have guidelines for body fat percentage, partly because it is difficult for people to accurately measure themselves, especially when compared to BMI.
The below table comes from the American Council on Exercise (opens in new tab). It doesn’t take into account age (if you are older it’s normal to have a higher body fat percentage), but can be used as a general guide to see what is classed as a healthy body fat percentage.
|Row 0 - Cell 0||Men||Women|
|Obese||30% or more||40% or more|
3. Waist-to-height ratio
There is another easy way to measure whether you are a healthy weight that will also give a good indication of whether you are carrying too much fat. This is your waist-to-height ratio (WHtR). If this is over 0.5 you are at an increased risk of health problems.
To measure your WHtR grab a piece of string and use it to measure your height. Then fold the string in half and wrap it around your waist halfway between your hip bone and your lowest rib (don’t breathe in). If the halved string isn’t long enough to go around your waist, your ratio is over 0.5 and needs some attention.
Get the Coach Newsletter
Sign up for workout ideas, training advice, reviews of the latest gear and more.
Nick Harris-Fry is a journalist who has been covering health and fitness since 2015. Nick is an avid runner, covering 70-110km a week, which gives him ample opportunity to test a wide range of running shoes and running gear. He is also the chief tester for fitness trackers and running watches, treadmills and exercise bikes, and workout headphones.