For my regular visitors, if you find that this blog hasn't been updating much lately, chances are pretty good I've been spending my writing energy on my companion blog. Feel free to pop over to Home is Where the Central Cardio-pulmonary Organ Is, and see what else has been going on.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Big fat lies

The articles and media clips seem to have hit a new high of late - so much so that even my tv deprived life is catching on. They all have the same theme. The reporters, using their "very serious" voices, tell us how North Americans are getting fatter than ever. Obesity rates have skyrocketed. Heart disease and type 2 diabetes usualy tops the long list of illnesses being blamed on our expanding waistelines. Words like "epidemic" are used with abandon.

The images that accompany these reports are always the same. Huge men and women, clothing stretched to the limits, bellies hanging over their belts, arms and thighs shaking and quaking. Images designed to disgust and alarm. The association is clear. The obesity epidemic is filling our world with fat, disgusting people who are ready to drop dead any minute, or cost our health care systems millions of dollars until they finally do, all because of the numbers on the scale.

Judging from these articles and video clips, one would expect to find these horrifying blobs everywhere we turn. So I tried an experiment. I actually started looking for them.

On a crowded bus one day, I surresptiously glanced at the people around me. It was standing room only at this point, so I had plenty to view. Looking at the people nearest to me and my children I saw...

...thin, average, very thin, alarming thin, thin, not quite thin, a bit big, very thin, alarmingly thin, overweight, thin, possibly a few extra pounds... on it went. On that one bus ride, I was probably the largest person there.

On the street, I looked around some more. As the crowds flowed past me, I saw a few more overweight people, perhaps one or two that I might consider morbidly obese. On the whole, I saw more extremely thin people, both male and female, than people who looked like they could stand to loose a few pounds.

Lets try it again. This time, we'll go to what must surely be the favoured haunt of the morbidly obese - a food court in the world's largest shopping mall, West Edmonton Mall. As my family and I ate, I glanced around the packed tables and long lines. Not a single morbidly obese person amonst them. No huge bellies, no rolly polly thighs. A few larger people here and there. Overwhelming, though, the people around us were thin. Once again, however, I found myself alarmed by how many I saw that were not just thin, but looked to be emaciated.

I'm not sure where the media is getting their images of crowds of fat wallowing down the streets and corridors. In the three provinces I've lived in and numerous cities and other communities I've spent considerable time in, I've yet to witness the sea of fat the obesity experts claim we are surrounded by.

So how to explain the numbers? How is it that statistics show we are an increasingly obsese society, yet even a cursory glance fails to corroborate it?

The explaination, it turns out, is in the definition of "obese." As someone who has always been interested in health but, with frequent moves, rarely sees a doctor, I was amazed to discover that the BMI is not only still being used, but that any doctor worth the title actually takes it seriously. Instead, I found that the BMI has become an almost religious document, the scripture used to define what is or isn't healthy, when all it is is a bunch of numbers that has NO ability to determine that actual health of any individual.

A week ago, the subject of obesity and the BMI came up among a group I was in, and it illustrated exactly what the problem with the BMI is. As one woman lamented the rising numbers in obesity and high BMI numbers, another womam piped up to say that, according to the BMI, she was obese. The first speaker was shocked. To look at this "obese" woman, you *might* think she would loose a pound or two, maybe. She is actually rather thin overall. Her only larger body part was around the hips. In other words, she had feminine curves. Knowing just how tightly the BMI defines what is or isn't the "ideal" weight, I was unsurprised that this woman might be considered obese, even though no sane person who saw her would consider her so.

And that's the problem with the BMI right there. The window of what a person's "ideal" weight is is not only incredibly small, but very low. The window of "overweight" isn't much different. The jump from "ideal" to "overweight," or even from "overweight" to "obese" is about as much as some women fluctuate during their menstrual cycles.

The other problem with the BMI is the assumption that there is an "ideal" weight for all humans, and that that number, in and of itself, can be used to determine whether or not a person is healthy. That's right - all 7 billion humans on this planet should have a BMI between 18.4 and 24.9 to be considered healthy. Body structure is irrelevant. Genetics is something to be fought against to fit into that miniscule range. Muscle mass, fitness levels, overall diet... none of these things matter. As long as you fit into this tightly defined category, you are assumed to be healthy. If you don't, then you are risking your life. You are irresponsible. You are weak willed, lazy, unhealthy. You are an object to be held in disgust; the very definition of what is wrong with people in our affluent North American society.

Is it any wonder eating disorders are also at an all time high?

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