Ideally, the two go together. If you are light, it would be best to also have a body made of less fat and more muscle. Having a lean body means having a stronger metabolism, better energy and less risk for diseases such as heart disease and cancer.
If you are lean, it is also ideal that your body weight is low, simply to reduce strain on your joints and to improve risk for disease.
"Light" means a low body weight, and this would also correlate to a person's BMI, or body mass index. BMI is used as an indicator of risk, and it measures the ratio of your weight to your height. If you have a low enough BMI, you are considered “healthy.” Lean means you have a healthy percentage of body fat versus lean tissue. Lean tissue includes muscle, organs, body fluids, and water, and anything else except for fat.
Jill Koegel is a registered dietitian and certified personal trainer based in Omaha. She blogs every Wednesday. Read more from Jill.
Recently, a client of mine went through a yearly health screening for work and was told his BMI of 29 put him in a category of people who must pay over $250 more for his annual insurance premium. Unfair, in my opinion, since his body fat is just over 12 percent. He has lost more than 100 pounds, and over 20 percent body fat in the last year. Hardly unhealthy. Likely, much of his body weight that puts him in an overweight category is excess skin.
The problem lies in what kind of weight the average American body with a BMI of 29 is made up of. The number tends to imply excess body fat, even though this implication is not fair for everyone.
Measuring body fat, however, is not practical in a health screening setting, as the standard measuring device is the handheld analyzer, which is often inaccurate.
What is the answer? A secondary questionnaire with the ability to have a professional's opinion or recommendation should be considered, however this will likely never be the standard. My input to my client's insurance company will not be considered, nor will it ever be asked for, but it is unfortunate for those who are making improvements to their health, only to be dinged on a standardized health screening.
So, if I had to give an answer to the light or lean question, I'm going to go with “lean,” since what a person's body is made up of is more indicative of health than the number on a scale. However, to have both of these numbers in a healthy range should be the goal, for long term maintenance of health.