Whether you’re trying to change or maintain your weight, or simply learn if your weight poses any long-term health risks, it may be helpful to compare your weight to expert recommendations. Weight and height charts have a long history in nutrition and healthcare.
Some of these charts have separate ranges for males and females, and others have the same categories of risk for both sexes. While these charts are one way to compare your weight to a desirable or healthy body weight, the body mass index (BMI) is the most common measure used today.
Life Insurance Charts
The original weight and height charts were designed by insurance companies, initially reflecting average weights for policyholders and later using weights associated with a longer lifespan.
The most well known height-weight charts were developed by the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company in 1943, with revisions in 1959 and 1983. These charts included ranges for men and women aged 25 to 59 only, with corresponding desirable weight ranges for each inch of height, including categories for small, medium and large frame.
Since these charts were developed during a period when infectious disease was a leading cause of death, extra weight was desirable -- fat reserves were considered a health asset if illness struck. These life insurance charts lost favor in recent decades as obesity and lifestyle-related diseases trumped infectious disease as the leading causes of death.
The body mass index (BMI) is the most common height-weight chart used today. BMI is calculated using a person’s weight in kilograms divided by their height in meters squared, although the easiest way to determine your BMI is by using a chart or online calculator.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), BMI is a screening tool to indicate your weight’s health risk, although it doesn’t directly measure body fatness. BMI is calculated the same for all ages and genders. In adults aged 20 and older, BMI interpretation is the same for males and females, however BMI is categorized based on age and gender for ages 2 to 19.
While the BMI is widely used and considered a very good indicator of fatness, a major limitation of the BMI is that it may overestimate health risk in persons who are heavy due to muscle mass or large frames, and may underestimate health risk in people with normal weight but low muscle mass.
BMI is interpreted using weight status categories. A BMI less than 18.5 indicates underweight, 18.5 to 24.9 is considered normal weight, 25 to 29.9 is categorized as overweight; and 30 or greater is considered obese. These categories are the same for men and women. Examples of BMI weight ranges for adults:
- 5-foot-0 adult: Normal weight 95 to 127 pounds, overweight 128 to 153 pounds and obese above 153 pounds.
- 5-foot-4 adult: Normal weight 108 to 145 pounds, overweight 146 to 174 pounds and obese above 175 pounds
- 5-foot-8 adult: Normal weight 122 to 164 pounds, overweight 164.5 to 197 pounds and obese above 197 pounds.
In addition to the charts, it’s possible to calculate an ideal body weight range with different formulas. One of the easiest is called the Hamwi formula, named after a researcher. This formula is different for men and women.
To calculate an ideal weight for a woman using this formula, start with 100, and add 5 pounds for every inch over 5 feet. For example, a 5-foot 4-inch woman would have a desirable weight of 120 pounds based on this formula.
The Hamwi equation assumes a medium-sized frame, so 10 percent is added for a large-framed woman, or 10 percent is subtracted for a small-framed woman.
The BMI chart is the most common measure of health risk related to weight. If your BMI categorizes you as overweight or obese, you are considered at higher risk of weight-related health problems such as hypertension, diabetes, heart disease and certain cancers.
However, the BMI is a screening tool and does not diagnose body fatness, according to the CDC. The BMI may misinterpret health risk in thin people who lack muscle mass or large-frame people with substantial muscle mass.
In these cases, a doctor can do additional assessments to determine disease risk. If you have any questions about your desirable or healthy weight, or if you want to learn more about improving your weight, speak to your doctor or dietitian.
- Proceedings of the Nutrition Society: Obesity: Criteria and Classification
- Today's Dietitian: Assessing Weight Status — Is BMI the Best Tool?
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: About BMI
- Journal of the American Dietetic Association: Average? Ideal? Desirable? A Brief Overview of Height-Weight Tables in the United States.