top of page
  • Writer's pictureHungry 2Move

Does weight = health?

Updated: Oct 17, 2023

We know that it is important to be healthy, but have weight and health become too intertwined?

It is understood that a higher weight can be linked to diseases such as certain cancers, diabetes and high blood pressure. However, its important to ask whether this is due to being overweight, or whether it is linked to lifestyle behaviours that might also cause someone to gain weight. Research suggests 'when you gain weight as an adult, whether or not it makes you obese, you're more likely to get some cancers, including breast, colorectal, endometrial, and kidney.' This might be because fat cells make hormones that change how cells grow. Or it might be that habits that lead to weight gain are similar to those that lead to cancer, such as eating an unbalanced diet, or lack of excercise. Their advice is to eat healthy and stay active to help avoid cancer, regardless of your weight.’ (1).

When researching the link between being overweight and health problems, there seems to be a lot of correlation, but very few actual reasons as to why the weight gain is the direct link. For example; "unhealthy foods can raise your weight and your "bad" LDL cholesterol and triglyceride levels. Foods with soluble fiber -- like oats and other whole grains, beans, apples, grapes, strawberries, eggplant, and okra -- will help get your cholesterol down." (2) It is stated that unhealthy foods raise your weight AND your bad cholesterol, but not that the weight gain itself causes the bad cholesterol. This would suggest that unhealthy foods may do this regardless of a change in weight? Peter Toth supports this (director of preventive cardiology at CGH Medical Center in Sterling, Illinois)“High cholesterol does not discriminate against body type, and body weight does not determine if a person suffers from high cholesterol or high triglycerides (a type of fat in the blood),”. He goes on to say “People who appear to be thinner assume they are not at risk. Therefore [they] don’t heed the appropriate steps to take toward a healthier lifestyle, which may lead to higher cholesterol and triglyceride levels, and, ultimately, heart disease”. This again suggests that it is the lifestyle behaviours that cause the high cholesterol, rather than the weight.

It is important to note the influence that genetics have on our health as well. Danielle Braff States

"On the outside, I look healthy and fit. I have a size 2 body. But I don’t actually fit the part society says a smaller body should. Inside this body? I’m unbalanced and have major health issues. My cholesterol was so high, I was approaching stroke levels." (3)

She goes on to say that our bodies produce cholesterol, and some people simply make more of it. “So if you have a genetic predisposition to high cholesterol, yours will likely be elevated no matter how much you weigh,” says Susan Besser, family physician with Mercy Personal Physicians in Baltimore. “No amount of dieting will fix it”.

The opposite may also be true — you may be overweight, but if you have the high-cholesterol gene, you’re more likely to have normal cholesterol levels, she says. This again suggests that health conditions may not be a result of being a higher weight, but actually a result of unhealthy lifestyle behaviours, which may sometimes also result in a higher weight.

Being overweight may actually be a correlation, rather than the cause.

We also know that due to societal beauty standards and belief around weight, those that do not fit into these standards often suffer emotional distress. Some studies have found that weight and body mass index (BMI) are correlated with body dissatisfaction, with young people who are overweight or obese reporting greater depressive symptoms and lower self-esteem than their peers. This poor body image can in turn prevent them from engaging in healthy behaviours.

Research states that

‘Poor body image may also prevent young people from engaging in healthy behaviours, with some studies finding that children with poorer body image are less likely to take part in physical activity' (4).

And survey data from Be Real finding that

'36% of girls and 24% of boys report avoiding taking part in activities like physical education due to worries about their appearance.'

We know that physical activity has health benefits, beyond simply causing weight loss. The pressure to look a certain way is likely to prevent an individual from engaging in physical activity. This low self-esteem may also cause an individual to comfort eat on less nutritional foods, which is likely to increase their bad health markers - regardless of any weight change.

It is important for us to consider that the driving factor for ill health may not actually be an increase in weight, but rather our lifestyle habits. If this is the case, then there is no reason why we should be so critical of an individual’s weight. Maybe if we accepted each body type as it is, and promoted healthy behaviours for all body types, our overall health as a nation may improve, and eating disorders and body dissatisfaction may decrease.



bottom of page