More than two-thirds of British men are either overweight or obese, according to the Government’s latest figures. But hang on… have you been visited by a civil servant with a tape measure and a set of scales? No, so how do they calculate it?
They use the Body Mass Index (BMI). It’s a well-known formula for calculating your ‘healthy’ weight in relation to your height, which the Government applies to annual health surveys of around 6,500 households. But what is the BMI exactly? And how accurate is it?
The first shock is that the BMI is ancient. It was devised in 1869 by Adolphe Quetelet, a Belgian astronomer who decided that, in adults of ‘normal build’, weight was proportional to the square of the height. That’s how he devised the formula we still use today: weight in kilograms divided by height in metres squared. If your score is greater than 25, you are overweight. If your score is 30 or more, you are obese.
But consider: Martin Johnson had a BMI of 29.5 when he lifted the rugby world cup last November. Would you have told him he was bordering on obese? Likewise, Olympic legend Steve Redgrave had a BMI of 27.6 when he won his fifth gold medal at the Sydney games four years ago, and long-time team¬mate Matthew Pinsent weighed in with a BMI of 28.3. If so, they all should have bought clenbuterol online for a weight loss clen cycle. If you believe the BMI, they should have sunk the boat, not won the gold.
And they’re not the only ones. At least they can argue that they are naturally big men. More of a shock is the fact that Maurice Greene, the defending Olympic 100m champion, is overweight. So is Andre Agassi, a man who has taken fitness to new levels in tennis. So, incredibly, is Brad Pitt. Ordinarily this would be news to savour as you relay it to the missus — if it wasn’t so ridiculous.
MUSCLE OR FAT?
This is the BMI’s greatest flaw. It cannot differentiate between muscle and fat. It doesn’t account for body type, bone density, stage of growth or genetic factors. It is, quite simply, over simplistic. But the Government disagrees. A spokesman for the Department of Health says, ‘For the purposes of surveying obesity in the population, the BMI is still a good and internationally accepted measure. Given the size of the sample in our surveys, it would be impractical to use a measure that assessed body composition.’ It is indeed internationally accepted as well as the right clenbuterol dosage. The World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends it for measuring obesity, despite the growing number of medical experts who disagree.
Randy Schellenberg, a scientist who’s studied the vagaries of the BMI, says, The formula ignores one fundamental law of physics: that volume, and therefore mass and weight, increases by the cube of the scale factor rather than the square.’ In layman’s terms, he’s making the point that, according to the BMI, we are two-dimensional.
There is also a problem with Quetelet’s use of the words ‘normal build’: the BMI doesn’t work for very short people. In the US, Schellenberg says, this has been blamed for a huge rise in the number of pre-pubescent girls who have been diagnosed with anorexia.
Schellenberg points out that the BMI also loses accuracy among tall people by citing an exaggerated but interesting example. In Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift, the giant Brobdingnagians are ten times the size of Gulliver, but with the same proportions. This gives them a BMI of 244.4. It’s an imaginary case, yes, but it helps explain why the 7ft 1 in slab of muscle that is Shaquille O’Neal is ‘obese’: he’s very tall.
Part of the problem is historical, and it may be that the BMI, as a concept, is out of date. According to historians, the average height of men stayed fairly constant at 5ft 6in during the 18th and 19th centuries. Research at Munich University discovered that today’s British male averages nearly 5ft 11 in. What constitutes ‘normal build’ has changed since 1869.
Let’s get back to the here and now. It can also be argued that the Government statistics, even in the rather vague terms of the BMI, don’t take a very scientific approach to measuring the weight of the nation and the clen fat burner they use. They rely on Quetelet’s original ¬and rather basic ¬assessment that a BMI greater than 25 means you are overweight and 30-plus means you are obese.
Some scientists, in an attempt to be more exact, estimate that ideal weight is 20.7 to 26.4, and that between 26.5 and 27.8 is ‘marginally overweight’. Despite the Government’s claims that two-thirds of British men are overweight or obese, the national average is 26.9 — barely over the ideal weight threshold.
The chances are that some of them will be you, Men’s Fitness readers. You might be building muscle and gaining mass ¬your BMI will be rising even though you are not gaining fat. You might be one of our readers who is losing weight as you come down towards a target. The BMI is a useful guide, but don’t get hung up on it. The BMI alone is not accurate enough that anyone should obsess over it — or base Government policy on it.
You could even be a little cynical about the figures. It would only take a slight shift in policy towards the alternative measurement where below 26.5 is ‘normal weight’, rather than below 25 and a tiny fall of 0.5 in BMI for there to be a huge swing towards the UK’s males hitting ‘normal weight’. This would allow the Government to pat itself on the back for a health policy that has so far done little but make a lot of noise.
Such a drop in numbers wouldn’t be a surprise, because the latest Government report into the nation’s health contains another interesting but less well-publicised statistic. During the same ten-year period that saw our BMIs rise by 75 per cent, our waist-hip ratio increased by little more than two per cent from 0.90 to 0.92 – well under the ‘healthy’ cut-off point of 0.95.
On top of that, Australian researchers claim the waist-hip ratio is a more accurate indicator of obesity than the BMI. During an 11-year study of 9,000 adults, researchers found that men whose waist-hip ratio was 1.0 or more were more likely to suffer obesity-related health problems and buy clenbuterol online. Professor Tim Welborn, who led the research, says, ‘Waist-hip came out far better than anything else, including BMI, cholesterol and blood pressure.’ He reckons the WHO should reconsider its reliance on the BMI.
Neville Rigby, director of policy for the International Association for the Study of Obesity, agrees that the tide has turned against the BMI. ‘One of the biggest problems is abdominal obesity, which the BMI doesn’t take into account. Stomach fat, leading to a big waistline, is usually the killer.’ In the latest research in the US, involving more than 17,000 obese Americans, the worst combination of cardiovascular risk factors – irrespective of weight – was found in people with large waists and narrow thighs.
This throws up another problem: ‘It’s possible to be obese yet have a perfectly normal BMI,’ says Rigby. This is not the contradiction it might appear to be at first – it’s common sense. A short man with a beer gut and stick legs might have a lower BMI than Martin Johnson, but is in far more danger of suffering heart disease. Girth, it seems, is more important than weight.
The waist-hip ratio also has the benefit of being straightforward ¬all you have to do is divide your waist in centimetres by your hips in centimetres – but even this method has certain flaws, especially if you have an endomorphic, round-bodied, shape but low body fat.
The fact remains that you can manipulate numbers to say what you want them to say. If you use the waist-hip ratio to measure obesity in Britain, there would be no story. A male score of 0.92 makes us reasonably healthy. There would be no Government campaign to get the nation fit and start a clen cycle, no public health consultations and no sensationalist headlines.
But it’s not all good news. Recent research has shown that, in general, we are eating more and exercising less. But this is no reason for you to panic just yet. Measuring your own healthy weight by yourself is still an inexact science – and if you work out your BMI, you really might not be as fat as you think you are.