Why Men May Want to Lose Weight
Many men are interested in losing weight. They feel they carry more body fat than they should because:
- The health risks of excess fat have been widely publicized
- Lean, muscular bodies seem to be more attractive to females
- Lean, muscular bodies get more respect and admiration from other males.
- A lack of excess fat makes often makes for better performance in sports and easier participation outdoor recreation
- A good body-image enhances self-confidence
Do You Really Need to Lose?
The first question to ask yourself is whether losing weight should really be your goal. To answer this, you can use some of the following methods:
- Body Mass Index (BMI): A convenient but indirect method that suggests that you may be underweight, normal, overweight or obese.
- Pinch an Inch: This is a traditional and simple method that some might find ridiculously low-tech and unscientific. However, its simplicity and lack of dependence on equipment make it useful for indicating excess fat. Despite its crudity, it makes some sense. In contrast to BMI, it has the advantages of measuring fat under the skin and not being confounded by body frame size and muscularity. Make the measurement by pushing your fingers into your belly and/or love handles until you reach muscle, then gently pinches your fingers together. A fold of skin and fat thicker than one inch suggests you may be carrying more body fat than you need and may consider losing weight.
A drawback of this method is that it only measures fat under the skin. Males, particularly as they age, often deposit significant amounts of fat under the abdominal muscles where a pinch wouldn‘t detect it, in a fat storage site called the omentum. Thus some men with “beer bellies“ or “potbellies“ are hiding fat that cannot be detected by a pinch. Such fat is associated with significant health risk. Therefore, while a pinch of greater than an inch clearly suggests excess fat, a pinch less than an inch does not necessarily show the absence of excess fat. Waist circumference measurement, described next, can more accurately detect hidden abdominal fat and tell you whether you might consider losing weight.
- Waist Measurement: This is a simple method that points to a dangerous kind of fat. Total abdominal fat is an independent risk factor for disease, and waist measurement detects abdominal fat more effectively than does Body Mass Index (BMI). Waist circumference should be measured at naval level with a tape measure made of cloth or plastic rather than metal to conform to body contours.
While men with a BMI over 35 are very likely to be obese and don’t need a waist measurement to tell them that, waist measurement adds to the accuracy of risk prediction for men with lower BMIs, especially those with BMIs between 25 and 35. Waist circumference has been positively correlated with undesirable blood fat levels, high blood glucose (pre-diabetes) and high blood pressure. In a 5-year study of thousands of men who never smoked, waist measurement was three times as effective as BMI in predicting death. Men with waist circumference above 37 inches (94 cm) had 60-70% greater chance of dying than those with smaller waists. A reading above 40 inches (102 cm) indicates markedly increased risk of cardiovascular disease, Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and an undesirable blood fat profile. Among Asian men, or other men with slim body builds, waist circumference can detect disease risk that would be missed by BMI, and may suggest losing weight even if you BMI does not indicate that you are overweight or obese.
- Waist-to-Hip Ratio: This method requires measuring hip circumference in addition to waist circumference, but may improve the accuracy of health risk assessment, especially for small-framed or large-framed men. In contrast to waist measurement alone, waist-to-hip ratio takes body size into account. A person with a larger frame should have a larger waist, which may not indicate excess fat or increased disease risk. A small-framed man may carry excess body fat, even if his waist measurement falls within the normal range. In that vein, hip circumference is a proxy for frame size, and waist-to-hip ratio indicates whether your waist is large for your frame. In addition, fat around the belly, but not around the hips and thighs, has been associated with cardiovascular risk. So a low waist-to-hip ratio indicates that existing fat stores are not likely to increase risk.
A 12-year UCLA study showed that, among older men, a waist-to-hip ratio above 1.0 (waist bigger than hips) was associated with a 75% increased risk of dying. Neither BMI nor waist measurement alone had predictive value in this group. A study of over 9,000 Australians showed that heart disease deaths did not differ much among waist-to-hip ratios up to 0.94. However, deaths began to increase dramatically as waist-to-hip ratio increased beyond 0.94. So you may consider losing weight if your ratio is above 0.94.
To calculate the waist-to-hip ratio, measure your waist circumference at the narrowest point between ribs and hips with a tape measure (preferably made of cloth or plastic rather than metal), and measure your hips at their greatest circumference. Divide the waist measurement by the hip measurement. For example, if your waist is 36 inches and your hips are 39 inches, your waist-to-hip ratio is 36/39 = 0.92. If you don’t wish to calculate it yourself, you can plug your measurements into an on-line calculator from the University of Maryland Medical System.
- Body Composition Methods: These help you determine if you should lose weight by estimating your percent body fat. Most of these methods require specialized equipment and trained personnel and can be expensive. For most men, the above means of determining if you should lose weight are adequate. But men who want a more precise measure of their body fat may feel the expense of a body composition analysis is worthwhile.
How to Lose Weight
If you have established that losing weight is for you, the next question is how to do so. See our page describing the weight loss methods proven most effective.
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