Maintaining a healthy weight is one of the key strategies to protect your overall health. Being overweight or obese increases your risk for various conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, certain cancers, gallstones, sleep apnoea and degenerative joint disease1. Overweight or obese children are also at an increased risk of developing chronic diseases (diabetes and cardiovascular disease) earlier in life and are more likely to remain overweight or obese throughout their adult life. Did you know that in South Africa, 2 out of 3 women, just under one third of men and 1 in 4 children aged 2-14 years are overweight or obese?

Becoming overweight happens as a result of routinely taking in more energy from foods compared to the amount of energy burned (normal bodily functions and during physical activity)1. A small but consistent energy surplus can cause gradual weight gain over time. Poor eating habits and low activity levels are the main cause and are influenced by individual behaviour, mood, background and environment. In some cases, obesity is caused by factors that you can’t control such as certain medical conditions, medications, hormonal changes, family history and genetic causes of obesity to name a few.

Now that we know how important it is to maintain healthy weight, how do you assess if you have a healthy weight?


BMI and waist circumference are two measures that are commonly used here in South Africa, as screening tools to estimate weight status in relation to potential disease risk2. Waist to hip ratio is used less often.

Body Mass Index (BMI)

BMI is a screening tool that is used to classify weight in relation to height. To calculate your BMI, take your Body Mass weight in kilograms divided by your height in meters squared. The equation form is as follows:

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You can also use the link below to an online calculator to calculate your BMI for you…easy peasy3!

Now that you have calculated your BMI, what does the number mean? Depending on where it falls determines if you are underweight, normal weight, overweight or obese.

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A high BMI can be an indicator of high body fatness and a low BMI an indicator of little body fat. This being said BMI should not be used as a diagnostic tool of the body fatness or health as there are some limitations. BMI doesn’t differentiate between fat and muscle, so those who are very muscular such as athletes or rugby players will have an inaccurate BMI1. It also can’t be used in children as their BMI score is calculated specific to their age1. As people with a normal BMI can still have excess weight around their stomach, BMI is best used in combination with waist circumference1,2.

Waist circumference (WC)

Another way to estimate your potential disease risk is to measure your waist circumference1,2. WC is a measure of abdominal fatness, which is the type of fat that accumulates around the stomach area1,2. It is measured in centimetres at the level of your belly button1. The fat that accumulates around your stomach and organs is more dangerous than the type of fat just under your skin and is more likely to cause high blood pressure, diabetes, abnormal blood cholesterol and heart disease1,2. The value can be interpreted as per below:

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Waist to hip ratio (WHR)

WHR is another tool that can be used to assess your weight status. It measures the ratio of your waist circumference to your hip circumference and determines how much fat is stored on your waist, hips, and buttocks4. You can calculate your WHR on your own, or visit your health care professional who can do it for you. To measure it yourself or with the help of a friend, family or partner4:

  • Stand up straight and breathe out. Use a tape measure to check the distance around the smallest part of your waist, just above your belly button. This is your waist circumference.
  • Then measure the distance around the largest part of your hips — the widest part of your buttocks. This is your hip circumference.
  • Calculate your WHR by dividing your waist circumference by your hip circumference

Now that you have calculated your WHR, what does it mean?

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It’s easy to make mistakes while checking WHR, because you need to take two separate measurements4. WHR is not a recommended tool in children, adults with a BMI of 35kg.m2 and higher or if you are shorter than 1.52m4. It can also be hard to get an accurate measurement of your hips or you might have a high WHR because you’ve gained weight in your abdomen or put on extra muscle around your hips from exercise4. Therefore, it is suggested to rather use waist circumference as it’s easier to interpret.

Well done…this is the first step on the path to taking control of your health and wellbeing. Using a combination of these tools is a great way to check if you are a healthy weight and your risk for certain conditions. If you are stuck visit your healthcare professional as they will be able to assist. For interesting articles on what foods to eat, meal plans or recipes. Visit our website on

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