Who Can Benefit from Weight Loss?

Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last reviewed: May 2023

Obesity has become a global epidemic. It is linked to health risks such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease, kidney disease, some types of cancer, and more. These health risks make it important for people living with obesity to consider weight loss.1,2

Who can benefit from losing weight?

Anyone who is overweight or living with obesity should consider trying to lose weight to improve their overall health. Health experts define being overweight as having a body mass index (BMI) between 25 and 29.9. Obesity is defined as having a BMI of 30 or higher.3

But BMI is not the only factor at play. Lifestyle factors and medical history also play a role in determining whether someone should consider losing weight. For example, people who have the following factors that put them at greater risk of obesity should consider a weight loss plan:1,4

  • A family history of obesity
  • A sedentary lifestyle
  • A high-calorie diet or one that includes high amounts of unhealthy fats
  • Certain medical conditions such as hypothyroidism

People who are pregnant or postpartum, as well as people taking certain medicines that can lead to weight gain, should also talk to their doctor about weight loss.4

How body mass index (BMI) relates to weight loss

BMI is a measure of body fat based on your height and weight. It divides your weight in kilograms by your height in meters squared. For example, a person who is 5’7” (1.7 meters) and weighs 160 pounds (72.5 kilograms) has a BMI of 25.1,3,5

While BMI is a useful tool used for weight loss, it has drawbacks. It does not take into account factors such as muscle mass, bone density, or body composition. For example, a person with a lot of muscle mass may have a high BMI, but their body fat percentage may be low. And BMI may not be an accurate measuring tool for certain populations such as children, older people, and pregnant people.3-5

In addition, certain groups of people are more at risk for obesity and should consider weight loss even if their BMI falls within the normal range.3-5

Steps for treating obesity

The first step in treating obesity is to make lifestyle changes. This includes eating a healthy diet that is low in calories and high in nutrients. It also includes increasing physical activity.6

Eating a healthy diet

Your doctor may recommend that you see a dietitian to help you lose weight. Dietitians are experts in food and nutrition. Together, you can come up with the number of calories you should be eating each day in order to reduce your weight.6

Here are some other ways to change your diet for weight loss results:6

  • Eat more whole fruits and vegetables.
  • Eat out less often.
  • Avoid processed foods and fast food.
  • Cut out sugary beverages like sodas.
  • Limit salt and added sugars.
  • Drink more water throughout the day.

Losing even a small amount of weight can greatly reduce the health risks that are linked to obesity. Experts advise aiming to lose about 1 to 2 pounds each week. This might not sound like a lot, but losing weight slowly and steadily over time is the safest and most effective way to lose weight and keep the weight off.6

Increasing physical activity

For those starting their weight loss journey, experts recommend getting 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise each week. That breaks down to about 30 minutes of physical activity a day.6

Try to do short bursts of activity throughout the day. Consider tracking your steps, aiming for about 10,000 steps a day. Remember that any kind of movement – whether it is taking the stairs instead of the elevator or doing a few lunges during a coffee break – counts.6

As you lose weight, you may find that your endurance improves and you can increase the intensity or the length of physical activity. This is a great time to explore other fun ways to exercise and move your body.6

If you are physically impaired or disabled, physical activity may look different for you. Before starting a new exercise plan, talk to your doctor about the right amount and type of exercise for your body.6

When lifestyle changes are not enough

In some cases, prescription drugs or weight loss surgery may be necessary for people who are living with severe obesity. Your doctor may recommend these treatments if you have not been able to lose weight through lifestyle changes alone.6

Certain prescription drugs that suppress appetite may be used for weight loss. These weight loss medicines should be used alongside a healthy diet and exercise routine. But these drugs are not right for everyone. Your medical history will help your doctor determine whether they are right for you.6

Weight loss surgery, also known as bariatric surgery, is a treatment option for those who have a BMI of 40 or higher. It may also be an option for those with a BMI of 35 or higher and other health conditions such as diabetes or high blood pressure. Bariatric surgery can lead to significant weight loss and improve health outcomes. But it does have risks. Your doctor can help you understand the benefits and risks of this type of surgery.6

When to see a doctor

You should see your doctor if:3

  • You feel you are overweight
  • You are gaining weight very quickly
  • You have a BMI of 30 or greater
  • You have a family history of obesity or obesity-related health issues

With the help of your healthcare team, you can set up a personalized weight loss plan that is safe and sustainable.3

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