Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Americans... BIG ?

Whenever I come back to the States from France, I am always struck by how big people are. Then, after a few days, I just get used to it and feel the exact opposite when I go back to Europe. Quite often, "big" is a nice way of saying "fat" though..... but that's exactly it, Americans are essentially big. There's no denying that more people are overweight and even obese in the U.S. than anywhere else. In fact, studies show that a majority of Americans are at least overweight.
But frankly, you don’t need them to see it, it is striking if you come from aboard and start looking around. What is particularly striking is that the very obese are huge – absolutely humongous.
The numbers are outrageous :

More than 60% of all adults in the United States are now medically overweight, and nearly 30% [34%]of those same adults are now obese, and just under 6% are "extremely" obese. (figures by the National Center for Health Statistics - here, here and CDC)

Even though there’s no possible denying that this country has a huge (no pun intended) problem with food, weight and obesity, the figures may have to be taken with a grain of salt.

All those statistics are based on body mass index which compares a person's weight and height. It is highly controversial because it ignores the relative proportions of bone, muscle and fat in the body.
Keith Devlin, the “math guy” on NPR had an interesting (yet short) exposé on as to why the body mass index is unreliable - simply because it ignores the waist or the density.

It makes sense to me because the average American is not only fatter but also bigger than, say, the average French or Belgian (The BMI was invented by a Belgian mathematician in the early 19th century). When I say bigger, I really mean “bigger” as in bigger bones and bigger muscles. The fact that many people also do intensive sports means that those (few) who are in good shape are often very muscular and impressively large – and not just the men but some of the women too.
One last note is that in my observation, people in New York city seem to be in better shape than in the rest of the country. That’s probably because they take the public transit and walk around a lot more.
Ironically, the newly nominated Surgeon General (offcial leading spokesperson on matters of health in the United-States) is herself obviously clearly overweight, which of course does not mean she shouldn't get the job and do it well. Still, I kind of like the irony.


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