How to Determine Your Health Risk with 3 Tools

How to Determine Your Health Risk with 3 Tools

No diagnostic tool is used in isolation to determine your overall health risks. Instead, your healthcare provider would consider several things, like measurements of your skin-fold thickness, diet evaluation, physical activity assessment, family history evaluation, and other health screenings. If all of that sounds a bit overwhelming, find out how you can assess your risk for heart disease by using three simple diagnostic tools.

Three Diagnostic Tools for Assessing Weight and Health Risks

• Body Mass Index (BMI)
• A Tape Measure (waist circumference)
• A List of Your Risk Factors (for obesity-related diseases and conditions)

Body Mass Index

Also known as BMI, the body mass index is a very useful measurement of overall obesity or being overweight. It is easy to perform and costs nothing. Calculated using your weight and height, BMI is an estimation of body fat and a good way of gauging your risks for various diseases associated with extra body fat.

BMI and risk for obesity-related diseases are directly proportional. For example, if your BMI is high, you are at a greater risk for developing conditions such as high blood pressure, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, certain cancers, and breathing problems. While BMI can be useful for most males and females, it does have certain limitations. These include:

• BMI can exaggerate body fat in athletes and those who are more muscular.
• BMI can underrate body fat in older people and anyone who lost muscle mass.

For all adults 20 years of age and older, BMI is interpreted utilizing standard weight categories. In the case of teenagers and children, interpretation of BMI is sex and age specific. To manually estimate your BMI, take your weight (in pounds) and divide it by your height (in inches squared). Take that figure and multiple it by a conversion factor of 703. You would then interpret your BMI in the following manner:

• Underweight – Under 18.5
• Normal Weight – 18.5 to 24.9
• Overweight – 25.0 to 29.9
• Obese – 30.0 or over

Waist Circumference

Measuring your waist circumference also helps determine possible health risks associated with being overweight or obesity. If the majority of your body fat is located around your waist, you are definitely at a greater risk for type 2 diabetes and heart diseases. This risk raises when your waist is bigger than 35 inches, if you are a female, or more than 40 inches in circumference, if you are a male.

Risk Factors for Obesity-Associated Health Conditions

In addition to being obese or overweight, these conditions put you at an increased risk for heart disease and other health conditions. These include:

• Elevated blood pressure
• Elevated LDL cholesterol (“bad” cholesterol)
• Low HDL cholesterol (“good” cholesterol)
• Elevated triglycerides
• Elevated blood glucose
• Family history of heart disease
• Sedentary lifestyle
• Smoking


If you are considered to be obese or overweight (based on your BMI), and you also have two or more of the above risk factors, it is highly recommended that you lose some weight. Even a five to ten percent weight loss helps reduce your risk of developing obesity related diseases. By comparison, individuals who are overweight, and do not have an increased waist measurement and less than two risk factors, need to avoid gaining any more weight rather than necessarily losing weight.

CDC (2011). About BMI for Adults.
National Heart and Lung Institute (2013). Assessing Your Weight and Health Risks.

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