Question of the Week

October 20, 2003


For current teens, 1986 was a lifetime ago.

"Between 1986 and 2000, the prevalence of severe obesity - people having a body mass index (BMI) of 40 or greater - quadrupled from about 1 in 200 adult Americans to 1 in 50 adults, the study found. During the same period, the rate of moderate obesity roughly doubled, from 1 in 10 to 1 in 5. BMI is a measure of a person's weight in relation to height. Obesity is defined as a BMI of 30 or greater. People with a BMI of 40 or more are classified as severely obese. The largest growth was among people with a BMI over 50. That group grew from 1 in 2000 to 1 in 400 Americans over the 14-year study period. A typical man in that group stands 5 feet 10 inches tall and weighs 373 pounds. Sturm's findings undermine some clinicians' view that severe obesity is a rare medical condition and not related to behavioral changes in the general population. To the contrary, as Americans get fatter, the prevalence of extreme obesity grows fastest, according to the study...."

What does this mean?

As of the year 2002, 37.0% of the adults in the United States were Overweight by Body Mass Index (up from 33.1% in 1990).--"All respondents 18 and older who report that their Body Mass Index (BMI) is between 25.0 and 29.9. BMI is defined as weight in kilograms divided by height in meters squared (w/h2)."
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Add that to the 22.1% of adults in the United States who are Obese by Body Mass Index (up from 11.6% in 1990)--"All respondents 18 and older who report that their Body Mass Index (BMI) is 30.0 or more."

The result is just over 59% of adults in the United States are overweight or obese (up from 44.7% in 1990).

"If the trend continues, it will lead to millions more cases of diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and some cancers, he said in an interview. Are doctors and hospitals ready? 'I think there's a real issue of whether the healthcare system can absorb it,' Downey said."

When does something that affects over half the adult population stop becoming news and start becoming the norm? Just because it's the norm, should it no longer be news?, or should it remain news because it does affect so many people? If over half the population is currently above what is considered a healthy BMI, then does the problem lie with the people or the BMI scale?

"BMI is a reliable indicator of total body fat, which is related to the risk of disease and death. The score is valid for both men and women but it does have some limits. The limits are:
* It may overestimate body fat in athletes and others who have a muscular build.
* It may underestimate body fat in older persons and others who have lost muscle mass."

BMI is not an exact science, and it does have it's flaws, but as scores rise above 40 and 50, there is less room to argue that concern lies with the test. How much should you weigh for your height? What is a healthy range you?

Body Mass Index Table

Calculate your Body Mass Index at:

Please note that the BMI does not produce accurate numbers for children and shorter teens and adults. Charts begin at 58 inches.

Questions of the Week:
Should you know your BMI? Why is this number important to you (or why is it inaccurate in your situation)? Fourteen or seventeen years from now--when you are an adult and the babies who are being born in the year 2003 are studying these numbers--how do you think the statistics will have changed? Why do you think they might continue in the same direction they are currently headed? What might cause those trends to change? Will this still be a topic of discussion? Why are BMI and obesity more than just personal health issues? What makes them public health issues today? What would bring them out of the public eye? What would cause them to continue to make the news in fifteen years?

Please email me with any ideas or suggestions.
Note: Due to increasing amounts of SPAM sent to this account, please include "QOW" in the subject line when sending me email.

I look forward to reading what you have to say.

[email protected]
Health Community Coordinator
Access Excellence @ the National Health Museum

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