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healthy woman

Healthy BMI for women: what is it?

23 Nov 2021 • 3 min read

At some point in our life, most of us have kept a close eye on our waistline and have hopped on and off the scales more times than we can remember.

Weighing ourselves is a good way of keeping tabs on whether or not we’ve gained or lost a few pounds, or if we’re any closer to achieving our ‘ideal’ weight.

But it’s only part of the equation when it comes to determining how healthy we are.

That’s where something called your BMI comes in.

It applies to both men and women and can easily be calculated once you know exactly what you need to measure.

For more on BMI for women, including what a healthy BMI for women looks like, keep reading.

What is BMI?

BMI, which stands for Body Mass Index, is a tool that’s used to calculate if your entire body make-up is healthy.

Basically, BMI takes your overall body mass and compares how healthy it is in relation to how tall you are.

Working out your BMI goes one step further than just simply finding out how much you weigh.

It uses factors, including your muscle mass, bone density, body fat and water weight to determine your mass.

However, due to the fact it’s not always that easy to obtain accurate muscle mass, bone density etc. readings, BMI tends to be used as useful health barometer.

Summary

Body Mass Index (BMI) takes your overall body mass and compares how healthy it is in relation to how tall you are.

It’s a useful barometer for indicating if you may be at risk of developing certain health issues.

Why is it important?

As we’ve just mentioned, BMI readings act as a useful indicator in relation to your overall health because your BMI tells you if you’re a healthy weight for your height.1

Calculating your BMI involves finding out how much you weigh in kilograms and then dividing it by how tall you are in metres.

BMI calculation

1

Divide your weight in kilograms by your height in metres.

2

Divide that figure by your height.

3

The figure you now have is your BMI figure, which if you take a look at the chart below, should fit within 1 of the coloured weight bands.

Knowing your BMI is important because if yours is high, it’s an indicator that the amount of fat you have within your body is high.

This is why BMI is often used to detect weight-related issues that could potentially lead to health problems.

Once you know your BMI figure, you can then, using women BMI charts like the one below, determine if you are underweight, a healthy weight, overweight, obese or extremely obese.

Summary

Calculating your BMI involves finding out how much you weigh in kilograms and then dividing it by how tall you are in metres.

BMI calculations are often used to detect weight-related issues that could potentially lead to health problems.

Why is BMI important for women?

For many women, there’s a strong link between having a high BMI and an increased risk of developing certain health issues, such as:

  1. Type 2 diabetes
  2. Heart disease
  3. Stroke
  4. Some types of cancer
  5. Fertility issues
  6. High blood pressure
  7. Fatty liver disease
  8. Osteoarthritis
  9. Kidney disease2

BMI and BAME individuals

According to the NHS, people from black, Asian and other minority ethnic backgrounds are at a higher risk of developing long-term health conditions, especially type 2 diabetes.

Adults with a BMI of:

  • 23 or more - are at increased risk
  • 27.5 or more - are at high risk

Summary

For many women, there’s a connection between having a high BMI and an increased risk of developing certain health problems, such as heart disease, fertility issues and type 2 diabetes (which is more common among BAME individuals).

What do the BMI readings mean?

Once you’ve calculated your BMI number, you should be able to take that figure and plot it on a BMI chart, like the one above.

You should immediately be able to see if you are a healthy weight or if anything needs to change.

If you’re underweight:

It could be a sign you’re not eating enough or you potentially could have an underlying illness that’s preventing you from putting on weight.

If your BMI calculations say that you are underweight, speak to your GP about the possible cause and measures you can take to help you put some weight on.3

Just as being obese has been linked to potentially contributing to certain health issues, being underweight may also lead to issues, including a weak immune system, osteoporosis, anaemia, female fertility issues and palpitations.4

If you’re a healthy weight:

This is good news, and if you can maintain your healthy weight, even better.

Eating a healthy, balanced diet and taking part in regular exercise can help you achieve this. Keep reading for more practical advice on improving your BMI.

If you’re overweight:

You ideally need to lose some weight, and the best way to do this is by eating healthily and exercising.

Certain BMI calculators will even tell you your ideal daily calorie allowance so that you can lose the right amount of weight safely.

If you’re obese:

It’s important you lose weight, using a combination of exercise and healthy eating.

In some circumstances, taking certain medications can help. If you are obese, speak to your GP about the best way for you to safely lose weight.

Summary

Depending on your BMI reading, which is based on your height and weight, you can either be underweight, a healthy weight, overweight, obese or severely obese.

What are the factors that impact women’s BMI?

As we’ve already established, your BMI, whether you’re male or female, involves taking your height vs. your weight into account.

People tend to stop growing after they’ve gone past their early 20s (though it may also decline when they get older).

Meanwhile, their body weight can fluctuate throughout their 20s, 30s, 40s, 50s and upwards.

It’s this weight fluctuation that’s largely responsible for changing women’s BMI.

Changes in body weight are usually down to us taking on more calories than we’re actually burning.

Therefore controlling our calorie intake and staying physically active can help us maintain a healthy body weight in relation to our height (in other words, maintain a healthy BMI).

Summary

During their younger years, women may find their height changes, which can impact their BMI.

As they get older and stop growing, fluctuating weight is the main factor when it comes to changes in women’s BMI measurements.

What can women do to improve their BMI?

What can women do for a healthy BMI? Is there anything they can specifically do? Or is it something they have little control over?

You may have already guessed this from the information up above, but there are certain things we can all, women included, do to help make sure our BMI reading falls within the healthy range.

Ultimately, this involves keeping your calorie intake down, which can be achieved by:

  1. Reducing your intake of sugary foods and foods that are high in refined carbs, e.g. sweets, chocolate, crisps, cakes and biscuits.
  2. Eating fewer foods that are high in fat.
  3. Basing your meals and snacks around food that’s high in fibre and contains slow-burning carbohydrates, such as legumes, wholegrains and fruit and veg.
  4. Eating plenty of protein-rich foods, including meat, fish, eggs and dairy, legumes, Quorn products, soya products and small intakes of nuts and seeds. This type of diet keeps you feeling fuller for longer and is good for stabilising blood sugar levels. In turn, this means you feel more satisfied after eating and are less likely to pick between meals.
  5. Exercising on a regular basis – the key to doing this is finding something you enjoy, you will stick to and can easily be incorporated into your everyday routine. Ideas include: gym sessions, running, walking, playing sports, gardening, and even, housework! 

Summary

Cutting back on sugary, high fat food and eating more protein-rich food, as well as exercising on a regular basis can help women achieve and maintain a healthy BMI.

Takeaway

It’s important to know your BMI because once you know how to calculate it, it’s a good indicator of where your weight is in relation to your health and whether or not you could be at risk of developing any health issues at some point.

Generally speaking, the ideal BMI for women is between 18.5 and 24.9 (or 22.9 for those from minority ethnic backgrounds).

However, it’s important to bear in mind that BMI doesn’t distinguish between muscle and fat, but weight as a whole.

This means could you be classed as being overweight when you could in fact be healthy.

If you are unsure about your BMI reading, go to your GP, who will be able to calculate it for you, as well as advise you on any measures you may need to take.

Remember, BMI is not an exact measurement, but a useful indicator of your weight and its potential impact on your overall health.

If you are concerned about your health and want more detailed analysis, speak to your GP or other medical professional. 

For more on BMI and body composition overall read, ‘What is body composition?’

You also asked...

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The advice in this article is for information only and should not replace medical care. Please check with your GP or healthcare professional before trying any supplements, treatments or remedies. Food supplements must not be used as a substitute for a varied and balanced diet and a healthy lifestyle.

Last updated: 23 November 2021

bhupesh-panchal

Bhupesh Panchal

Author

Senior Regulatory Affairs Associate

Joined Holland & Barrett: April 2019

Masters Degree in Toxicology and BSc Hons in Medical Biochemistry

Bhupesh started his career as a Clinical Toxicologist for Public Health England, advising healthcare professionals all around the country on how to manage clinical cases of adverse exposure to supplements, pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, industrial chemicals and agricultural products.

After 7 years in this role and a further year working as a drug safety officer in the pharmaceutical industry, Bhupesh joined Holland & Barrett as a Senior Regulatory Affairs Associate in 2019.
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