Blog | Wednesday, September 26, 2012

American heft

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released its latest report on obesity in the U.S.

The report generated copious media attention, with the usual hand-waving about the issue. A quick web search reveals mostly local stories along the lines of "Our state's collective girth is increasing and we need to do better" or "Phew! Our state isn't as fat as those other states."

To visualize the magnitude of the problem, look at the CDC's visual map.

Note how the percentage of obese Americans has continually risen over the last twenty-five years. If you click on the right arrow button in the embedded map, you'll see year after year of increasing percentages of obese people in nearly every state. Interestingly, the color choices go from white (no data) to blue (10-20% obesity) to orange/red (more than 20% obesity). Is there a coded message here? One big take home: What's Colorado's secret?

What gets lost in all of the superficial coverage of "Fat state vs. Not-as-fat state" is how obesity is measured.

In health care we use the BMI, or body mass index, as the determinant. The BMI is a measurement that adjusts weight for height: the taller you are, the more weight you're 'allowed' to carry. The calculation is straightforward: Take your height (in meters squared) divide by your weight (in kilograms). It gives you a number, and the range is as follows:
Less than 18.5=underweight
Greater than 35=morbidly obese
There are many reputable BMI calculators out there that we use in our office all the time. In fact, I'm embedding one below that will let you enter your height and weight in our usual units (feet, inches, and pounds). It'll do the converting for you. Just enter the numbers and click "Calculate."

Write down the number and bring it to your next visit with a health care provider. They'll be impressed that you know about this. Especially if it motivates you to do something about it.

BMI For Adults Widget

To GlassHospital readers that are bodybuilders or football players, know that BMI is NOT reliable for you in determining obesity. For those with a large percentage of body mass from muscle, the BMI is inaccurate. It's far from perfect, but for the general population it's a reasonable guide.

This post by John H. Schumann, MD, FACP, originally appeared at GlassHospital. Dr. Schumann is a general internist. His blog, GlassHospital, seeks to bring transparency to medical practice and to improve the patient experience.