The average American woman weighs 168.5 pounds, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). As any woman knows, though, those 168 pounds look quite different on a person who is 5'10" versus one who's barely breaking 5 feet. Plus, when it comes to determining if a woman is healthy or not, the number on the scale is not always the best indicator.
The ideal weight for a 5'6" female can range from 118 to 163.
Source: CDC's BMI Chart and MetLife's Height and Weight Table
Factors Influencing Weight
Although there are plenty of habits a person can cultivate to keep their weight in check, such as eating a healthy diet and getting exercise regularly, there are other factors, too. And unfortunately, some of these factors can't be controlled. They include:
- Genetics: Your genes can play a role in the amount of fat your body stores and where you store it.
- Race/ethnicity: Certain races and ethnicities are more likely to be overweight or obese.
- Age: People generally gain weight as they age, as well as lose muscle mass.
- Height: Those who are taller often weigh more than shorter people.
- Bone structure: To some extent, a person's frame can make an impact on their weight.
Body Mass Index (BMI)
The body mass index (BMI) is ratio of your heigh to weight and is often used as a general method to determine a healthy weight, though it's not a precise measurement. It's calculated by dividing a person's weight in kilograms by the square of their heights in meters — but it's much easier to use an online calculator to figure it out.
A BMI that ranges from 18.5 to 24.9 falls in the healthy range, while those that are under or over that number are considered underweight and overweight, respectively.
The ideal weight for a 5-foot-6-inch woman is 115 to 154 pounds, according to the BMI table, which equals a BMI between 18.5 and 24.9. You calculate your BMI by multiplying your weight in pounds by 703 and dividing the total by your height in inches squared.
The Vermont Department of Health recommends that women that have an overweight BMI — a BMI between 25 and 29.9 — lose weight if they have an additional risk factor, including smoking, high blood pressure, a bad cholesterol level of at least 160 mg/dL or a good cholesterol level lower than 50 mg/dL.
The BMI is an imperfect measurement of ideal weight because age, gender and muscle mass aren't considered, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Height and Weight Table
In the past, insurance broker MetLife offered a chart that listed an appropriate weight for a person's height, taking into account the size of their bone structure. It was known as "desirable weight." You can determine your bone structure size by measuring the circumference of your wrist.
While this chart isn't used frequently anymore, it can still help a person who wants to determine their ideal weight while taking frame size into account. For women who are 5'6", frame size breaks down like this:
- Large frame: wrist size over 6.5 inches
- Medium frame: wrist size between 6.25 inches and 6.5 inches
- Small frame: wrist size less than 6.25 inches
MetLife's desirable weights for women take into account that she's wearing one-inch heels; therefore the desirable weight for a 5'6" woman wearing shoes to make her 5'7" is 123 to 136 pounds if she has a small frame; 133 to 147 pounds if she has a medium frame; and 143 to 163 pounds if she has a large frame.
Rather than focusing on the number on the scale, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends taking stock of your waist circumference to assess your health risks.
The CDC suggests that excess abdominal fat is a better predictor of obesity-related diseases, such as high blood pressure or type 2 diabetes, than weight. A woman who has a waist measurement of more than 35 inches in circumference is at a higher risk of those diseases, no matter what her height might be.