There are many reasons for premature death around the world today, but research has linked one’s weight as a major factor. In light of that, “maintaining a healthy weight” is another secret for longevity. 

Now, what constitutes a healthy weight? For athletes, it is the weight at which they perform their best, but for most of us it is the weight at which we have the lowest rate of morbidity and mortality. In other words, a “healthy weight” is that weight which gives you the best chance for a long, healthy life.

It is so unfortunate and sad to see people’s lives being cut short, especially when it comes to pastors, elders and faithful spiritual leaders. Sadder yet, is to realize that at times a preventable unhealthy weight is a factor. In an Adventist Health study, when compared to people of average weight, men who were overweight lost 1.5 years of life expectancy and women 1.9 years. This suggests that even a moderate excess weight can be a hazard.

In fact, the World Health Organization (WHO) listed the world’s top risks of death as high blood pressure, tobacco use, high blood glucose, physical inactivity, and obesity or being overweight. a It is now public knowledge that obesity has become an epidemic. Here are some striking findings:

• 400 million people worldwide are classified by WHO as obese (BMI 30+), 20 million children under the age of 5.
• Researchers state that obesity and being overweight are as hazardous as smoking.b
• The prevalence of obesity has increased by 74% since 1991 to 41.3 million U.S. adults. If this trend continues, obesity will soon be the number one cause of preventable mortality in the U.S.c

This slow form of suicide is evidenced by recent weight studies which show the following associations between weight and life-expectancy/lifespan:

• In terms of life expectancy, being overweight during middle age is on a par with smoking.
• Overweight, non-smokers reduced their lifespan by an average of 3 years.
• Obese female non-smokers reduced their lifespan by an average 7.1 years.
• Obese male non-smokers reduced their lifespan by 5.8 years.
• Morbidly obese men - (BMI > 45) - reduced their lifespan by up to 13 years.d
• Being underweight (BMI less than 18.5) is also a health hazard.
• Men and women with a BMI of 23-25 (healthy weight) live the longest.e f

This reduced lifespan results from the fact that excess weight increases the risk of heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, osteoarthritis, certain cancers, and substantially reduced quality of life - even more than does smoking, alcohol addiction, or poverty.g Isn’t that appalling? 


Even modest weight loss can result in significant risk reduction, not only for one risk factor but many. For example, an obese man who has a 5% weight loss will theoretically decrease his risk of dying by 12%.h Isn’t that good news?

Saying “I have to lose 50 pounds,” sounds impossible, but one pound at a time is possible. The question is “how” to do it? What is the best diet to maintain healthy weight or to lose weight? Low carb? High protein? Low fat? There is much propaganda out there on what works. What is needed is a lifestyle change that you can live with for a lifetime.i

The gold standard for a weight loss program is a combination of diet, exercise, and behavior therapy. Remember longevity secret 1 and 2? They work synergistically. Evidence shows that exercise and foods high in fiber (vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes) are the best way to prevent weight gain.j The beauty is that we are privileged to have many lifestyle programs available in our church to help people change habits.

So here are some practical health tips to maintain a healthy weight:

1. Be active

2. Choose healthy foods

3. Limit …

• Fatty meats, whole milk, cheese, cream
• Pastry, deep fried foods, snacks
• Most desserts: ice cream, pie, cake, candy, and soda pop
• Serving sizes
• Eating out

• Fresh fruits/vegetables
• Soy and other legumes
• Whole grain breads and unrefined cereals
• High fiber foods
• Lower calorie foods
• Water

Remember that for many faithful spiritual leaders, overeating often takes place when you are discouraged, overwhelmed, frustrated, or stressed out. So, an important part of a good weight control program is to plan ahead to keep stress loads manageable. Don’t over commit or overextend yourself and pray for God’s help to change what you need to change in your lifestyle.

Now, “May the God who makes everything holy and whole, make you holy and whole—spirit, soul, and body— and keep you fit for the coming of our Master, Jesus Christ. The One who called you is completely dependable. If he said it, He'll do it!”k You can count on Him!

a WHO Burden of Disease World Report 2004.
b 090225
c JAMA, Jan 1, 2003; 289:76-79
e Walter C. Willett, M.D., Dr.P.H. et al, Guidelines for healthy weight, The New England Journal of Medicine, 341(6):427-434.
f KR et al. Years of life lost due to obesity, JAMA Jan. 8, 2003; 289:187-93
g JAMA, Jan 1, 2003; 289:229-30
h Treating Obesity: A New Target for Prevention of Coronary Heart Disease. Louis J. Aronne, MD, FACP. Published: 07/01/2001. Cornell University Medical Center, New York, NY.
i Ludwig DS, et al. Dietary fiber, weight gain, and cardiovascular disease risk factors in young adults, JAMA Oct. 27, 1999; 282:1539-1546
j NIH, NHLBI, Clinical Guidelines on the Identification, Evaluation, and Treatment of Overweight and Obesity in Adults, 1998
k I Thessalonians 5:23-24 (The Message).

Katia Reinert Family Nurse Practitioner at Washington Adventist Hospital in Takoma Park, Maryland, USA.