October 9, 2002
6:06 PM   Subscribe

It's not your imagination, Americans (and those of us who live in similar cultures) really are getting fatter. The latest Journal of the AMA has the reports.
posted by aeschenkarnos (23 comments total)
Possible points of interest: (a) There was a recent thread on thinness, fatness and the standard of beauty, specifically discussing Agbani Darego of Nigeria. (b) This is, of course, a health issue; is it an example of average public health moving down to meet the standard of medical care available? (c) Anyone personally gotten a lot fatter or skinnier over the years and want to talk about it? Do you feel healthier, are you happier, do people treat you differently?

BMI = weight (kg) / ( height (m) ^2). Here is a BMI table. Roughly speaking, 18-24 is considered 'healthy', 30 or more is 'dangerously overweight', and 14 or less is 'dangerously underweight'. Also, what do you think--especially if you are medically or physiologically trained--of the BMI concept?
posted by aeschenkarnos at 6:19 PM on October 9, 2002

According to this body max index calculator I'm borderline overweight at 24.3kg/m2. Hmmm. I think this way of determining if someone's obese or overweight isn't the best. It's only based on weight and height, but not on how much muscle or fat is on your body. By this method, Arnold Schwarzenegger is obese with a BMI over 33.
posted by humbe at 6:23 PM on October 9, 2002

Sigh...and I was just opening a bag of M&Ms, too.
posted by hippugeek at 6:27 PM on October 9, 2002

I looked at the chart in today's paper. At almost 6' 3", I was a little off the chart, but you could extrapolate that I should be no more than 190lbs. Now, I haven't been that light since, probably 8th grade, or perhaps never at my current height. And not even when I was cycling >100 miles/week.
I may be 15lbs overweight these days, but certainly not THIRTY. Absurd!
posted by ParisParamus at 6:28 PM on October 9, 2002

the BMI table is a .pdf by the way. And most of the BMIs that I've seen have different scales for men and women.

Anyone personally gotten a lot fatter or skinnier over the years and want to talk about it?

Sure, I've done both. When I went to college (1997), I weighed 185 lbs (I'm 6'3"). End of freshman year, I weighed about 205. End of sophomore year about 210. End of junior year a stunning 235 (!). I began losing weight towards the end of my senior year, but still graduated around 220 or so. A year and a half later, I'm down to 180. Bit of a fluctuation, eh?

And this is a health issue. That's what got me inspired to stop eating jack in the box at 3 in the morning. My "good" cholesterol was way too high, although my "bad" was on the upper side of the normal range. But being 21-22, this does not bode well for the future.

How did I do it? Well, to be honest, I just stopped eating like a (stereotypical) US'n. I eat fast food at the most once a month now. Pizza at the most once a month. Eat a lot more fruit and veggies, very little red meat. Never been a big dessert guy. A normal (by traditional standards) diet. It worked for me, but that doesn't mean it will for everybody. I sincerely agree that there are some that for either mental or physical reasons can't control their weight. I also sincerely think that the vast majority of people can, as I did, and as I've seen others do.

Just my half-pence.
posted by Ufez Jones at 6:32 PM on October 9, 2002

When I got married I was 6'4" and 145 lbs. Seventeen years later, I am 6'6", 270. According to the CDC guidelines that makes me obese, which amuses me to no end as I'm much more pleased about the way I look now than I was then.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 6:37 PM on October 9, 2002

The weird thing is... you can't really tell how fat you are from this.

example: I weigh ten pounds more than I did a year ago, when I was rock climbing daily. (I hurt myself earlier this year...) However, back then I had washboard abs and big hunky arm and back muscles.

Now, I'm kind of flabby, I can feel the waistband of my pants when I breathe, and I get winded walking to class. I'm probably more out of shape than I have been in my life, and I'm starting my new fitness program monday.

But my BMI is almost the same, and my current BMI is below 50%.

So what is BMI supposed to tell us? This seems like a useless statistic to me. It certainly doesn't fit anyone I know or tell them something that they need to know.
posted by SpecialK at 6:43 PM on October 9, 2002

Seems like a better statistic would be % body fat. Guess that's too complicated?
posted by humbe at 6:45 PM on October 9, 2002

Guess that's too complicated?

Just a tough way to assess yourself. Especially with a website. Probably a much better measurement of overall health, though. But only when factored with many other stats (cholesterol, blood pressure, etc.)

and a plea to the masses to please not let this turn into a flame-war as many of the weight issued threads around here do.
posted by Ufez Jones at 6:50 PM on October 9, 2002

Humbe, right on - I think you've put your finger right on the problem with BMIs. Body fat % is a much better measure of 'coarse healthiness'.

I wonder if muscularity was taken into account in this survey? Reading the abstract again it seems to be just based on raw BMIs. The 'gym culture' should lead to an increase in general health and a decrease in body fat. So the survey could be full of false results. Or maybe gym-going and body-building is rare, and most people in Western cultures are actually getting fatter. Or maybe both are true.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 6:55 PM on October 9, 2002

Those online BMI calculators are pretty much worthless for telling people whether or not they're obese. Basing the calculation simply on height and weight produces extremely inaccurate results because it doesn't take into account how much of the weight is muscle and how much is fat. The only way to do that is to go to see a doctor or nutritionist and have it calculated properly with skinfold measurements or underwater weighing.
posted by MrBaliHai at 7:01 PM on October 9, 2002

This wouldn't be a problem if more women tried to look like the cover of Cosmopolitan. [/sarcasm]
posted by Stan Chin at 7:07 PM on October 9, 2002

Or more men tried to look like Iggy Pop.
posted by humbe at 7:12 PM on October 9, 2002

I can't believe this thread has gone this far without flames. Has MetaFilter... matured??
posted by languagehat at 7:15 PM on October 9, 2002

Gee, I always figured as long I stay somewhere between Kevin Smith & Guillermo Del Toro, I am in my prime "director's" weight.
posted by FilmMaker at 7:17 PM on October 9, 2002

here's what i got:
when i was cycling competitively my bmi was 19.6 (i'm 5'7"), i was down to about 6% body-fat and got sick a LOT. i also ate whatever i wanted, in HUGE quantities, along with a lot of stuff i didn't like (ever tried to choke down a bowl of cold pasta at 4:00 am? yuk, is all i have to say).
i was also 22 years old and thought i was hot sh_t.
almost 10 years later my bmi is 22.9, i rock-climb at least 3 times a week (sorry about your injury SpecialK), run 5 miles twice a week, ride 20 miles at least twice a week and eat mostly bran cereal, veggies and fish, have a computer job and no tv.
i carry about 10 pounds of flab that i'm doing my bets to get rid of, but think that i'm healthier now than i was then.
my conclusion from the the previous comments is that trying to use something like the bmi to gauge the fitness of a large sample probably works pretty well, but, like all (almost) all statistical models it breaks down on an individual level.
that being said i'm pretty sure that, as a nation, we are getting fatter, and most of the factors in the report play a part in that (i was vastly amused to see that decreased tobacco use was listed as one of the contributing factors).
the evidence seems to indicate that what constitutes 'obese' varies tremendously from individual to individual, as does the definition of 'fitness', so do your research, think about it, and have, or not, that extra slice of 'za/maguro/peach pie.
i seem to have used up this years quota of parentheses in this post [oh well].
posted by dolface at 7:21 PM on October 9, 2002

"Almost anything uses more energy than watching TV"
posted by blackholebrain at 8:42 PM on October 9, 2002

All this talk about body fat! (or lack of it) - I'm the same weight as when I was 18 (I'm 39) and have about the same body, too - "like Jim Morrison in that picture" bragged my wife too her (unmarried) friends. Iggy Pop comes to mind. but it's a shame about my brain. I'd glady trade for a plumper physique and a more generous genetically determined dose of endorphins and/or seratonin.

Maybe America needs the Atkins diet.....

By the way, anyone see the BBC report on the feminizing/maculinizing efects of PCB's?
posted by troutfishing at 8:59 PM on October 9, 2002

Was fat (6'1+" 310-315)
Am thin (171 this morning, 170 by Friday morning)
Finished losing the weight 3 years ago next month.

Used to eat meat. Was fat then.
Stopped eating meat almost 12 years ago. Still gained weight.

Still don't eat meat.

Used to bike a lot while loosing, had a nasty wreck, quit. Crunches and pushups now, light schedule (every third day), mostly for body shaping.

Worst weight gain problem all along: zero portion control--bag o' pretzels = one serving. Box o' cereal = two servings. Ben and Jerry's...

got rid of all food that doesn't require preparation (playing laziness off against hunger). Stopped drinking soda and juice (except as mixers). Made peace with hunger. Learned ways to stick with what I knew was effective even if day-to-day fluctuations made progress hard to measure.

These days I lose during the work week and indulge on weekends, especially during social activities. Balance is maintained and I get to have my fun. I never eat in the building I work in. It has no association with food for me.

When I was fat I was invisible.
posted by NortonDC at 9:04 PM on October 9, 2002

troutfishing Im in the same boat I havnt changed my body weight has been the same +/- %5 for 20 years (35 now) and Im thin with a 18 BMI. We are envied by some but I will say we have a hard time retaining fat (energy reserves) which means eat or famish, and I suspect this can lead to certain deficincies if you get lack, which can lead to things like low seratonin levels. I suppliment a lot of vitamins and Omega3 fats for the brain plus protien powders all seems to help. The whole PCB thing could be the Silent Spring of this generation.
posted by stbalbach at 9:20 PM on October 9, 2002

BMI is a good statistic because everyone has been recording height and weight as basic human measurements for years. Body fat ratios are probably a better measure but are technically harder to obtain reliably.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 9:50 PM on October 9, 2002

I was a healthy weight during my teens and early twenties. I was athletic, active in sports, a muscular 118-125 at just under 5'2.

Then my thyroid stopped working and I quit smoking. My metabolic resistance increased. The weight I gained is hard on my joints, which are weak from a connective tissue disorder, and I keep having to take breaks from working out to let injuries heal or joint pain subside. And I'm overweight, almost obese.

I hate it. I hate feeling unattractive and self-conscious. But what I hate more is feeling, and being, clumsy and unable to do sports. I feel betrayed by my own body. The mind-body connection is gone.

The women I envy aren't in fashion magazines. They're out running by the river, knowing their bodies are strong enough to get them home again.
posted by swerve at 10:04 PM on October 9, 2002

Anyone personally gotten a lot fatter or skinnier over the years and want to talk about it? Do you feel healthier, are you happier, do people treat you differently?

When I was bicycling 120 mile/week, I was 6'3" and ~190 lbs.

Five years later, limited time for exercise and steroid use for an eye condition have conspired to cause my weight to shoot up to ~240 lbs. I am considered obese by bmi calculations and I feel it. It sucks.

I am still pretty active, although the days of 120+ mile weeks on my bike are over. I eat a realtively healthy variety of fruits, vegetables, and small quantities of meat. I drink water or diet drinks. And yet, I am 240 lbs, and look it. I hate it. I look in the mirror and cringe. I look around me and see other obese people and think "I hope I never get like that". And yet I am like that, if not to the extreme that many are. (Southwestern Indiana has a higher percentage of obese people than the rest of the nation unless I miss my guess). I guess that makes me vain.

Strangely, my girlfriend tells me I look better to her now than I did then, but I'm pretty sure this is not due to any objective measure on her part. My weight hurts my self-confidence and my self-image. I feel less healthy and less happy, although I don't notice people treating me differently. Of course, since I am 6'3" and have an appearence that has been referred to as "saturnine" and "severe," people tended to treat me with caution anyway.

Still, I haven't really noticed a social stigma -- but then, I'm not really single. I think if I were, I know my weight would definitely add difficulty to my ability to get a date.

Being fat sucks.
posted by moonbiter at 8:26 AM on October 10, 2002

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