A Little Middle, Little By Little

Could it be that people who are a little overweight are healthier than people of normal weight? This was suggested earlier this year by a study issued by the Centers for Disease Control.

This would be great if it were true. But many experts say no such luck (or words to that effect), The Early Show co-anchor Rene Syler reports.

Dr. Jonathan Waitman is a clinical nutrition specialist with Weill-Cornell Medical Center's Comprehensive Weight Control Program. His reaction to the CDC study: "What would happen if a study came out that said smoking was actually good for you? That would be the wrong message to send, and it would contradict all the other data we have."

He concluded, "You have to look very closely at the study that came out. When you look at it, you find it's very flawed."

Excess weight carries a host of medical problems, including high blood pressure, diabetes, certain kinds of cancer, and heart disease.

However, even when figuring out ideal body weight, things are not as simple as they seem. On paper, Waitman would say that a woman who is 5 feet tall should weigh 100 pounds, and for every inch taller, she can add five pounds. (For men, it's 110 pounds for the first 5 feet.)

"This is ideal body weight," Waitman cautions, "and what people have to remember is that, this doesn't take into account muscle. And it doesn't differentiate muscle from fat tissue."

Muscle weighs more than fat.

So, if a woman is 5 feet 5 inches tall and is extremely muscular, 160 pounds might be a healthy weight for her. But if she is not muscular and is carrying a lot of fat tissue, then she might need to look into weight loss.

Waitman says body mass index (BMI) is simply a function of height and weight, and it doesn't take into account different body types.

"When I talk to people about their weight, I try to concentrate on getting them to a healthier weight, not getting them back into the tuxedo they wore in high school or their wedding gown," he explains, emphasizing: "Getting to a healthier weight and reducing the risk for diabetes, cancer, heart disease, the biggest killers."

So he encourages people to concentrate less on the number of pounds than on the percentage of body weight. Waitman says that losing just 7 percent of your body weight can reduce your risk of getting diabetes by 5 to 10 percent.

A woman is also better off if her waist circumference is no bigger than 35 inches, says Waitman, "because the fat that accumulates around the abdomen (which is also called visceral anaposity) is the worst fat for you. It's metabolically active, promotes inflammation and is associated with heart disease and diabetes. It's the weight around the belt that is the worst for you."

What do we need to do? Is it a continuous struggle for the rest of our lives?

To women who have been battling weight for their entire lives, the doctor says, "This is a lifestyle issue. You can't think of it as a diet you're going to stick with for two weeks and can't think of it as going into the gym once a week for a month or two. You have to change your lifestyle."

He continues, "Incorporate physical activity into your daily activity. Take stairs, things like that… If you reduce calories every day by about 100 calories, you can lose 10 pounds over the course of the year."

So slow and steady wins the race?

"Small (lifestyle) changes," he says, "can make a huge difference."