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Body Mass Index Self-Help Advice

Written by Stu Watson

BMI as a short-hand way to know if you're overweight. But, be careful of generalizations.
Hi, my name's Stu, and well, I'm...overweight.

The thing is, I don't think that's a bad thing. But to read the headlines and listen to the researchers with their facts and tables, I could easily start to think that I was in trouble.

I'm overweight because my body mass index (BMI) calculates out to 27.9, based on a body weight of 205 pounds at a height of 6 feet.

 
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Body mass index is a number health care professionals use to determine if we're too fat. To calculate BMI, weight in kilograms is divided by height in meters, squared.

I got my BMI at the Good Housekeeping online body mass calculator, after which I was informed that, "According to standards set by the World Health Organization, a BMI of 27.90 indicates that you are overweight."

Not only am I too heavy, so are many other Americans. A recent study by the National Center for Health Statistics says 60 percent of adult Americans are overweight or obese. That's up by 5 percentage points from numbers in 1994, and up 14 percentage points from 1980.

The experts say men and nonpregnant women with body mass indexes from 25 to 29.9 are overweight. Any BMI of 30 or greater means you are obese. But it doesn't define the source of that weight. It simply implies that it's fat. And it probably is, in most cases.

I'm different. My BMI is skewed. I've got more muscle mass than the average spud-junkie. But I'm "overweight." And if I'm overweight, I suspect a few other people lumped into the statistics have a greater muscle mass problem than a fat problem.

You know who you are. But what about the others, the ones who live in a state of denial?

"Who, me? Naw, that's just muscle."

Two people of the same height may weigh the same, but look much different, and have vastly different levels of health.

Why? Because muscle tissue is heavier than fat tissue. So one person with little body fat but good muscle mass could weigh as much as another person with limited muscle mass but elevated body fat. And that latter person would look bigger, in all the wrong places, because it takes more fat than muscle to achieve the same weight.

I think it's safe to say that most people now considered overweight are probably overly fat, not overly fit. After all, it's not a bunch of triathletes hanging out at Cinnabun in the mall on Saturday afternoon.

This is a population that has joined fitness clubs by the droves, bought fitness books by the dozens, filled their homes with ab rollers and treadmills and weights and ... frozen pizza.

We're talking about people who shop well, but exercise less. The number of Americans getting regular exercise dropped from 23 percent of the population to 15 percent in the last 10 years.

And now the extra fit among us are also paying the price. My health insurance premium just went up, because too many other people are overweight for all the wrong reasons.

So now I'm overweight in all but one respect: my wallet.

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