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Being A Healthier Body Weight

We all come in different shapes and sizes, and many of us gain and lose weight at various times in our lives. The benefits of being a healthier weight are significant. Not only does having a healthier weight increase energy and improve well-being, but it reduces the risk of breast cancer and other diseases.  In North America, it is estimated that 17% of breast cancers could be prevented with healthier body weights alone.

If you’ve tried to lose weight and keep it off, you’ll know that it isn’t easy—and often gets harder as you age. Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation offers you facts to inform you and practical tips to motivate you to help achieve or maintain a healthier body weight.

Body Weight And Breast Cancer Risk

Research shows that postmenopausalMenopause:
A natural part of a woman's aging process, when the ovaries start to make less estrogen and progesterone and the menstrual periods stop. This change typically occurs between the late 40s and mid-to-late 50s.
women with a higher body weight may have a higher risk of breast cancer. Excess weight gained during adulthood increases the risk of breast cancer later in life, particularly for women who continue to have a higher body weight after menopause. Higher body weight has been associated with increased risk of breast cancer recurrenceRecurrence:
Cancer that returns after treatment.
in both pre-and postmenopausal women.

This connection may be caused by exposure to greater levels of the hormoneHormone:
A natural substance released into the body by the endocrine glands, such as the thyroid, adrenal gland or ovaries.
A female sex hormone that is produced mainly in the ovaries. A woman’s levels of estrogen fluctuate throughout her life. Estrogen has been linked to the development of breast cancer and may promote the growth of cancer cells.
, which is linked to the development of breast cancer. After menopause, most of the body's estrogen is produced in fat tissue, so a woman who carries more weight is exposed to more of the hormone. It may also be related to other changes associated with being overweight, including changes in insulinInsulin:
A hormone produced by the pancreas that allows sugars, or glucose, from food to enter cells so it can be used for energy.
, glucoseGlucose:
A sugar molecule, and a major source of energy for the body.
and inflammationInflammation:
The immune system’s response to tissue damage caused by infection, injury, exposure to toxins, or other types of trauma. Chronic inflammation has been linked to increased cancer risk.

Are you a healthy weight? Know your BMI

Measuring Body Mass Index (BMI) is one way of assessing your weight and its possible effects on your health. BMI is a measure of weight that takes your height into account.

BMI can be an important indicator of whether your weight is putting your health at risk. Experts consider a healthy BMI to be in the range of 18.5–24.9. BMI is a useful indicator but it only gives you part of the picture. What it doesn’t include is how the weight is distributed or the proportion of body fat to muscle mass and bone density. There are some groups of people that BMI may be less accurate for:  muscular athletes, children and teens under 18 who have not finished growing, pregnant or lactatingLactation:
Production of milk in the breast.
women, and adults over age 65.

Body Shape: are you an apple or a pear?

Even if your BMI is within the healthy range, your waist circumference is another important health indicator. Waist circumference is a measurement of the size of (or the distance around) your waist. Excess weight around the waist and upper body (an 'apple' body shape) is associated with greater health risks than weight in the hip and thigh area (a 'pear' body shape).

Guidelines for a healthy waist circumference for adults between the ages of 18 and 65 take into account a person’s sex and ethnicity. Your risk for developing many health conditions like heart disease, stroke, and diabetes is increased if your waist circumference is at or above the following measurements:

Ethnicity Sex Waist circumference
European/Caucasian, Sub-Saharan African, Eastern Mediterranean, Middle Eastern Female 88 cm (35 inches)
Male 102 cm (40 inches)
South Asian, Malaysian, Asian, Chinese, Japanese, South and Central American Female 80 cm (32 inches)
Male 90 cm (35 inches)

Having your waist circumference and percentage of body fat measured by a health care provider are ways of filling out the picture of your health.  If you choose to measure your own waist, it’s important to measure your true waist to get an accurate assessment of your waist circumference.

Visit our resources page to find tools to help you calculate your BMI and to take a proper waist measurement.

Achieving And Maintaining A Healthier Body Weight

Being a healthier weight throughout life may be one of the most important ways you can protect yourself against breast cancer. It may also be one of the most challenging.

Reaching or maintaining a healthy body weight requires a combination of deliberate lifestyle changes, including eating a balanced diet, limiting the amount of alcohol you consume, regular physical activity, and a plan for maintaining these lifestyle changes in the long-term.

Research shows that the most effective way to lose weight—and keep it off—is by working at it slowly and surely. If you wish to achieve a healthier body weight, losing 5 to 10% of your total weight can have significant health benefits. Losing weight isn’t easy - it’s important to be patient, set yourself realistic goals, get help from friends, family members and weight loss experts, and prepare to make it a long-term commitment. 

If you’d like to achieve or maintain a healthier weight, Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation encourages you to speak to a health care provider, including a dietician, nutritionist or naturopath, about the best approach for you.  If you need more help, consider joining a reputable weight loss program that focuses on healthy diet changes, getting regular physical activity, and helping you to sustain these behaviours in the long-term. Your health care provider can help you find a program that is safe and effective. 


Dieticians of Canada. Assess your BMI. Accessed June 17, 2014.

Health Canada. Canadian Guidelines for Body Weight Classification in Adults. Accessed June 17, 2014

Health Canada (2008). Nutrient Value of Some Common Foods. Accessed June 17, 2014

Heart & Stroke Foundation. Healthy Habits Healthy Weight: A Practical Guide to Weight Management. Accessed June 17, 2014

National Cancer Institute. Obesity and Cancer Risk. Accessed June 17, 2014.

World Cancer Research Fund/American Institute for Cancer Research. Food, Nutrition, Physical Activity, and the Prevention of Cancer: a Global Perspective. In Washington DC: AICR, 2007. Accessed June 17, 2014.