Living With Polio


Body weight should be kept within the normal range (18.5-24.9) of a body mass index (BMI) for a person’s gender, age, and body frame. Additional weight from excess fat can exacerbate new muscle weakness.

Being overweight,* defined as a BMI of 25 to 29.9, can aggravate almost all mobility problems. Obesity, defined as a BMI of >30, may seriously interfere with breathing and increase the risk of hypertension, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes (National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, 1998). BMI is computed by multiplying weight in pounds by 700 and dividing that product by height in inches squared.

Most weight loss occurs because of a decreased intake of calories. For polio survivors who use a wheelchair, severe calorie restrictions, such as only 800-850 calories per day, may be needed to avoid weight gain or to temporarily induce weight loss.

Physical activity is an important component of weight loss, but will not lead to substantially greater weight loss beyond six months. Physical activity is most helpful in the prevention of weight regain (National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, 1998). A key component for a successful weight loss program is motivation. Behavior therapy is a useful adjunct for weight loss and weight maintenance.

For polio survivors, nutritional intake and exercise are very individualized matters. Therefore, consultation with a certified nutritionist is recommended before a weight loss plan is adopted.

Excerpt from PHI’s “Handbook on the Late Effects of Poliomyelitis for Physicians and Survivors.” © 1999

*About BMI for Adults and Adult BMI Calculator

Definitions for Children and Teens
For children and teens, BMI ranges above a normal weight have different labels (overweight and obese). Additionally, BMI ranges for children and teens are defined so that they take into account normal differences in body fat between boys and girls and differences in body fat at various ages. Visit BMI for Children and Teens.

Weight Management: A Polio Perspective for Women (PDF)
Josephine Faithful Walker

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