Ready for a shock? 55 percent of Americans are fat. That makes us the fattest people on earth. If that number seems incredulously high to you, you’re not alone. Overnight, people who may have just considered themselves a little plump awakened to find themselves in a whole new category, thanks to the National Institutes of Health. A panel of experts has revised the weight guidelines such that a body mass index (BMI) of 25 indicates being overweight, and a figure or more than 30 is considered obese. The panel has also listed obesity as a definite risk factor for stroke, heart disease, diabetes and some cancers. Until this latest announcement, the cutoff for being overweight was a BMI of 27, and obesity was just listed as an associated factor with these illnesses.
You can imagine the new guidelines brought some howls of objection and cries that these new guidelines might urge a younger generation to diet and develop eating disorders. I couldn’t disagree more. While the BMI isn’t perfect, it is a more accurate way of judging obesity than the old height and weight insurance scales. One exception to the new scale may be the very muscular person who weighs more because dense muscle weighs more than fat. But that group is a very small minority. Nonetheless, the experts are telling doctors that in addition to calculating the BMI, doctors should measure their patients’ waists. Fat that accumulates around the middle of the body appears to be more dangerous than when it appears elsewhere.
Eating disorders are a problem in this country, but obesity is epidemic. It’s about time that we admit we are an obese nation and most of the heart disease, stroke and some cancer in this country could be eliminated by simply not smoking, cutting down on the calories and fat in our diets and adopting a modest exercise program. But moderation is not something Americans seem to do well. We either overeat or undereat. We exercise like fanatics or not at all. These new guidelines should serve as a wakeup call to all of us that being overweight in most situations can be controlled, and that by doing so we can improve the quality and likely the quantity of the number of days that we spend on earth.