Perhaps you’ve adopted an organic lifestyle and have made a commitment to buying organic food because you’re battling a weight problem. If so, you’ve taken a step in the right direction.

A new study published in the July 5 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association reveals the health risks for women who are extremely obese may be underestimated, as they have a higher prevalence of hypertension, diabetes and high cholesterol than women at lower levels of obesity.

Obesity diagnosis and treatment are typically based on body mass index (BMI) of at least 30. BMI is calculated as weight in kilograms divided by height in meters squared. Three categories of obesity have been defined:

  • Obesity 1 (BMI of 30–34.9)
  • Obesity 2 (35–39.9)
  • Extreme obesity (40+)

The latter 2 categories—sometimes termed “severe obesity”—are increasing rapidly in the United States. From 1986 to 2000, prevalence of BMI of 30 or higher approximately doubled, BMI of 40 or higher quadrupled, and BMI of 50 or higher increased fivefold. In 2000, 2.8% of all U.S. women—and 6% of African-American women—reported measurements consistent with extreme obesity. 

Dr. Kathleen McTigue and colleagues at the University of Pittsburgh conducted a study to examine the relationship between weight category and risk of death and coronary heart disease (CHD) in a large sample of U.S. women. They found extreme obesity prevalence differed with race/ethnicity, from 1%  among Asian and Pacific Islanders to 10% among black women.

“We found that obesity was linked with considerable health risk and that accounting for degree of excess weight is important in understanding weight-related health risk,” the researchers write, concluding that their findings have “important clinical and policy implications.”

Healthcare providers can help patients assess their weight-related health risks, which would allow more informed decision-making about lifestyle and health.