BMI, Body Mass Index

BMI, Body Mass Index

BMI, Body Mass Index

On the drive to class last month, I listened to a University of Michigan professor on the radio. She was discussing BMI, body mass index. Although I am familiar with much of what she divulged, her comments have given me pause to think.

First, BMI is a measurement of fitness. It’s a better indicator than merely stepping on a scale and getting one’s weight. There are some rather involved methods of determining BMI. Some include the use of calipers and even weighing a body while it’s submerged in water.

According to BMI standards, scores correlate to:

below 18.5 underweight
18.5 to 24.9 normal
25 to 29.9 overweight
30 and over obese

To be sure, there are some pitfalls with using BMI formulas. For instance, the scores are not necessarily accurate for athletes, including some runners. Those with muscular builds, with dense muscle mass may get higher readings that put them in undesirable categories. Since muscle weighs more than fat, the scores may be, well, “false positives.”

Using myself as an example, I scored 25.8, which puts me a bit overweight. I don’t deny that I could stand to lose five or ten pounds, not the least of which to help my race times. My fondness for a glass or two of beer and raw cookie dough (I know, I know) make shedding those pounds problematic. But I do a lot of running (40 to 50 or more miles a week), more cycling than that in good weather, and quite a bit of weight lifting. So, although I look at my BMI, my score doesn’t quite concern me.

I prefer my training buddy Michael Holmes’ advice. He never steps on the scale. Rather, he watches his belt. Holmes maintains, “Your belt notches tell the story.” And as Karen told a friend we hadn’t seen in some time, “Ron still fits into his clothes from 20 years ago.” (Maybe that says as much about my sartorial tastes?)

Returning to the professor’s observations, there is a lot to think about. She noted that 34% of Michigan’s population is obese, not merely overweight, but obese. Particularly hard hit are our children. Overweight and obese kids grow up to be overweight and obese adults. Michigan is among the leaders in overweight and obese adults and children. For the most part, even allowing for some muscular builds, the percentage and ranking are alarming. In our state alone, the costs associated with that obesity (health care and treatment, lost worker productivity, etc.) is about $13 billion. Also consider the other, nonmonetary, costs such as longevity and quality of life

According to the professor, overeating accounts for 75% of obesity. (I would submit that a lack of exercise and normal physical activity compounds that.) Much of this overeating is caused by stress—more stress, more overeating.

Here’s where I slip a bit from the bandwagon, when the psychological excuses begin. People see they gain weight, which leads to more stress and, you guessed it, more overeating and weight gain. They know eating so much is not good, more stress…. They realize they should exercise and, when they don’t, become frustrated, more stress…. It seems a vicious, continuing cycle.

Maybe the professor is right; but maybe it’s a sign of our times. What do you think was the percentage of recent Christmas presents that were “toys” such as computers, video games, cell phones, and all that other electronic gadgetry? Then, how many other gifts, such as balls and bats, sleds, running shoes, etc., were given? I wonder and I don’t have the answer. But I suspect that it’s one that explains in large part our exploding BMI.

Also consider the generation gap. When younger, we older folks were outside playing, all the time. What kid wanted to stay inside and watch soap operas and game shows on, mostly then, black-and-white television sets? Now, for today’s kids, there are cartoons and other shows, even entire networks, aimed at them, toddlers to teens, all day long! As kids, at least, the older generation was outside playing, running and jumping and biking and swimming. As adults, we slip; exercise becomes, for too many of us, a thing of the past. And, as we age, our metabolism slows. We gain weight naturally. Then toss in overeating and the lack of physical activity (we don’t shovel snow or mow the lawn; we have snow blowers and tractors). And, I suppose, more and more of the high-tech toys are targeted at the oldsters, capturing our fancies. If today’s youths are not playing outside, not as active, what does that forebode for their futures?

Many schools also play a part, not a positive one. They seem to have forgotten what the Greeks taught us about a sound body and a sound mind (like they seem to have forgotten about history). Even before the economic hardships of today, physical education requirements for graduation were being decreased or even eliminated. Some elementary students have as little as an hour or less of physical education a week. When budget cuts become necessary, the first things to go are the “extras,” art, music, and physical education. It’s not just the loss of these classes, but the message that is sent.

My buddy Michael Holmes thinks many of our health care problems (costs, insurance, etc.) would be solved if we just took better care of ourselves, if we showed more concern over our poor state of fitness, as demonstrated by our BMIs. I think he’s right. It’s a good start.

While the numbers are startling, there’s still hope we can turn things around. It’s encouraging that all over the state and the US, entries at road races are increasing. Maybe running can provide a start.