Friday, February 6, 2009

How achieving an ideal BMI will save us money

Lately, Trent and I have started a campaign to lose weight. This isn't part of a flimsy, short-lived New Year's resolution; our only resolution was to continue saving money and paying down debt. And it's not because we want to look better or fit into the clothes we wore when we were 18. Neither of us is obese. We just have a little extra poundage on our frames.

No, we want to achieve an ideal Body Mass Index (BMI) in large part because we think it will save us money in the long run. That's why we've been on a slow (very slow), steady weight loss trajectory for the past three or four months.

First, what is BMI? It's basically a way to measure the amount of body fat you're carting around. It takes into account your height as well as your weight, which of course is reasonable because a 5' 5" 30-year-old who weighs 220 pounds is more overweight than a 6' 2" 30-year-old who weighs 220 pounds. There are BMI calculators all over the web, but the one I like is the National Institutes of Health BMI calculator (hey, might as well go with a credible source). People with BMIs less than 18.5 are underweight. Those in the 18.5-24.9 range are on target. People with BMIs between 25 and 29.9 are overweight, and those with BMIs over 30 are obese.

All of which you probably already know. So what's my point? And how does this relate to money?

Well, scientists have discovered there's something of an ideal BMI within that normal range of 18.5-24.9. The ideal BMI, according to some studies, is between 21 and 22 (Matsuzawa et al., 1990). This is associated with lower risk for cardiovascular disease (Ashton, Nanchahal, & Wood, 2000). According to the World Health Organization, "...approximately 58% of diabetes and 21% of ischaemic heart disease and 8-42% of certain cancers globally were attributed to a BMI above 21 kg/m^2" (World Health Organization, 2009, para. 16). 
So, WHO experts, what you're saying is... my BMI of 24, while decent, isn't ideal? And it puts me at higher risk for horrible illnesses that cost thousands of dollars to treat? Hmmm.

Other studies have measured the correlation between BMI and medical expenses, and the results are pretty astounding. According to a 1997 study, women with an ideal BMI have annual health care costs that are 6.3% to 36.1% lower than average; men who have an ideal BMI pay 3.6% to 18.2% less per year for health-related expenses (Heithoff, Cuffel, Kennedy, & Peters). 

Sign me up for that plan, please.

Saving money on health-related expenses isn't just something we want to do, it's something we need to do if we want to maintain a decent savings account. Our employers don't offer health insurance, so we buy our own, and pay what seems like way too much for basic preventative services like a yearly physical, immunizations, pap smears, and the like. We'd be shelling out a very high deductible if one of us got really sick. We don't want to go without health insurance (the last time we tried that, I got pregnant, and we paid $21,000 for a C-section), and we know we can't prevent every health scare, but it's clear that we need to take matters into our own hands and do our best to live as healthfully as we can.

What we've done so far to reduce calories and lose weight:

-Cut down on going out to eat. If we do go out, we try to make healthy choices. (Bonus: we save money!)

-No more sugar-laden Starbucks lattes. For a few years there, I was justifying my coffee addiction with the argument that I need my calcium, but there are cheaper, healthier ways to meet nutritional needs. You know, like milk. (Bonus: we save money! Cha-ching!)

-Exercise almost every day. We're runners (well, okay - very slow joggers), but we also like to walk a lot, and we work out with our Nintendo Wii Fit. In my book, anything is better than nothing.

-Ramp up the fiber and veggies. I started purchasing frozen broccoli (talk about inexpensive) and incorporating that into a lot of our meals. It's healthy, but it's also filling, thereby reducing my desire to go back for seconds.

-Weigh ourselves every day. I know a lot of people discourage this practice, but weighing in once a week doesn't cut it for me. A daily weigh in serves as a regular reminder that I'm on the right track; it motivates me to keep making good choices.

So far, both of us have lost between 5-10 pounds. I have about 12 more pounds to go before I hit the Magic 22, but when I do, you can bet I'll work hard to stay there.


Ashton, W.D., Nanchahal, W., & Wood, D. A. (2001). Body mass index and metabolic risk factors for coronary heart disease in women. European Heart Journal, 22(1), 46-55.

Heithoff, K. A., Cuffel, B. J., Kennedy, S., & Peters, J. (1997). The association between body mass and health care expenditures. Clinical Therapeutics, 19(4), 811-820.

Matsuzawa, Y., Tokunaga, K., Kotani, K., Kobayashi, T., & Tarui, S. (1990). Simple estimation of ideal body weight. Diabetes Research and Clinical Practice, 10, S159-64.

World Health Organization. (2009). Obesity and overweight. Retrieved on February 6, 2009, from


  1. yes, the good old wii fit hey! It's certainly got my husband and I on the right path. I have to confess that after the first couple of weeks I'd lost interest in a lot of the games, but the real key I find is the daily weigh in's and progress graphs. I think there's really something to weighing yourself daily, and seeing your progress charted, all done for you, to keep you on track. With a weekly weigh in, you can always snack one day, thinking you'll make it up the next. With the wii weigh in, you know you'll be brought to account!!!

    My husband and I have both lost several kilo's nice and gradually. I particularly like the soft start - we hadn't planned to go on any crash diets, we just started doing the weigh-ins and that got us motivated.

  2. Now that's rather a unique way of saving money. There's no doubt though that a healthy body can be seen as an investment that if not taken good care of, then it's gonna be costly - very costly. As far as weight loss and investment are concerned, losing the extra pounds need not be difficult with stuff like surgical means, natural methods, and, diet. The centerpiece would all boil down to ideal weight is healthy both physically and financially.