Maintain a Healthy Weight

We know that being overweight, physically inactive and not eating well cause nearly 30 per cent of all cancers.

Staying the right weight for your height doesn’t come easily for many people. Yet the latest scientific evidence shows that obesity increases the risk of bowel, breast (after menopause), endometrial, oesophageal, kidney and pancreas cancers. It may also increase the risk of gall bladder cancer. If you are overweight, you are probably eating more than you need for your height and level of activity.

Being overweight or obese also increases your risk of type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, gall bladder disease, gout, impaired fertility, lower back pain, osteoarthritis and many other conditions. So it’s well worth trying to stay in shape.

Regular physical activity and eating a balanced diet are two of the best ways to stay within a healthy weight range and reduce the risk of cancer.

How to know if your weight is healthy

There are two ways to find out if your weight is healthy. One is the Body Mass Index (BMI), the other is waist circumference measurement. Neither method is perfect but when used together they are useful in determining how healthy your weight is.

Body Mass Index (BMI) compares your weight to your height.To work out your BMI you will need to know your weight (in kilograms) and your height (in metres).


Bob is 1.74 m tall and weighs 82 kg

To calculate his BMI: 82÷(1.74 x 1.74)=27 kg/m2

(Weight÷(height x height)=BMI)

Bob’s BMI is 27 which is in the overweight range

The desirable range for adults is from 18.5 to 25 kg/m2. This is known as the healthy weight range. However, the specific cut-off measurements of BMI may not be suitable for all ethnic groups, who may have equivalent levels of risk at a lower BMI or higher BMI.

  • A BMI less than 18.5 kg/m 2 is underweight for adults
  • A BMI more than 25 kg/m 2 is overweight for adults
  • A BMI more than 30 kg/m 2 is obese for adults

Waist circumference

Fat carried around the abdomen and waist is a greater health risk than fat carried on the hips and thighs for type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and some cancers.  A waist circumference measurement is taken at the narrowest point between the lower rib and the top of the hips at the end of a normal breath, and ensure that the tape is firm, not too tight and not too loose. You may be at a higer risk of developing cancer if your waist circumference is above the healthy range.

Men should aim for a waist circumference below 94cm.

  • 94cm or more increases risk
  • 102cm or more substantially increases risk

Women should aim for a waist circumference below 80cm.

  • 80cm or more increases risk
  • 88cm or more substantially increases risk

What should I do?

Maintaining a healthy weight is about getting the balance right between what you eat and how physically active you are. Losing weight to reach a healthy weight for your height isn’t easy, however any weight loss will be beneficial.

Plan to:

  • Eat and dink according to your energy needs
  • Make fruit, vegetables, cereals and other low fat foods the basis of your diet
  • Be physically active at a moderate intensity for at least 30 mins on most, if not every day of the week
  • Set realistic goals to lose your weight
  • Limit alcoholic drinks as they are high in calories
  • Avoid diets, they don't work. It is better to make moderate changes that will last you a lifetime

Remember, if you have any concerns or questions, please contact your doctor.

Further information and resources

This information is based on current available evidence at the time of review. For further information and advice contact Cancer Council 13 11 20.

This information can be photocopied for distribution.

Last updated June 2016.

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