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The BMI Change of 1998

I noticed that CNN was running a new scare graphic of fat in the US, linked via digg. And of course there's Dr. Gupta making a guest appearance.

There's one thing that this map, and every map charting the BMI changes, doesn't mention: the US government's redefinition of what it means to be "obese". It happened in 1998.

Check out this article on the then-proposed changes.

Under the proposed guidelines, which are to be announced later this month by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), 25 million more Americans would be considered overweight -- including two baseball third-basemen: Chipper Jones of the Atlanta Braves and Cal Ripken Jr. of the Baltimore Orioles.

People were concerned about the changes - understandably:

[Dr. Judith] Stern and other some critics worry that if the draft guidelines are adopted, doctors might prescribe diet pills for patients considered overweight -- when a little exercise might be all that's needed.

Good thing we don't need prescriptions to poop our pants. Problem solved!

When the BMI change did pass, CNN looked at the specifics.

Using the old criteria, the average woman -- with a height of 5 feet, 4 inches (1.6 meters) and weighing 155 pounds (70 kilograms) -- was considered overweight.

Under the new definition, that weight drops to 145 pounds (66 kg). A person at the same height who weighs 175 pounds (79 kg) would be considered obese.

Look at that again. The average woman is overweight.

This proves once again that the BMI labels are meaningless. If everyone is "overweight", then no one is overweight.

Star-Tribune Earns a Bingo Square | What About Your Friends?

jmars July 25th, 2007 | Link | It's time to boycott

It's time to boycott CNN.

I'm not kidding.

The nonsense about BMI is bad. And has anyone looked at the website's front page in the last couple of hours? The LEAD STORY -- the LEAD STORY of a supposedly "hard news" network's web site -- is the "inspiring" tale of a couple who lost 550 pounds. This is not news -- it's a headline from some supermarket checkout "women's" magazine. And they've lost weight by PRAYING themselves thin!!!!

-- headdesk -- (repeatedly, and really hard!)

I think it's time that CNN -- and its advertisers -- got a better sense of exactly how much economic weight fat Americans have to throw around.

squurp July 25th, 2007 | Link | Thanks for posting this

Thanks for posting this article. I've been looking for the point when they changed the BMI standards, now I'll be better able to explain the insanity of it all, to people.

goddess's picture
July 26th, 2007 | Link | Aaahhh. I suppose it's often

Aaahhh. I suppose it's often worth repeating: So many places where people seek [what they believe to be] news are all about what sells. Most of what sells is fear: fear of violence, death, disease, poverty, and other things that go awry in the world. As long as fat is seen as a monster that's taking over our country, we'll keep seeing these newsy items.
Let's just get down to it: Somebody needs to manipulate a photo to depict a huge blob of human fat borking through a city and crushing or swallowing people in its path. At least The Enquirer will run it.

sevendayswonder July 25th, 2007 | Link | Paul, thanks for posting

Paul, thanks for posting this. The only info I had found on this was from the Center for Consumer Freedom. And I've gotten confused about the dates in the past. Kate's e-mail today motivated me to find the chart from the Center for Consumer Freedom that shows the change in numbers it caused.

I hate that people throw the BMI around, but throwing it around and using those numbers without disclosing that change is misleading and downright deceptive. I always emphasize with students that that change was minute you're "normal" the next you're "overweight". Lends itself quite well to social construction of social problems Smiling

jportnick's picture
July 25th, 2007 | Link | "The average woman is

"The average woman is overweight" is really nonsensical. They could say "the average woman is of average weight" and even though it won't mean much, it at least won't be contradictory.

Jennifer Portnick
Personal Trainer (who is fat)
San Francisco, CA

BabySeal July 26th, 2007 | Link | ""The average woman is

""The average woman is overweight" is really nonsensical."
Yes, it makes just about as much sense as stating "This pink dress is too green".

wysechilde July 27th, 2007 | Link | Holy-moly

See, this is the sort of stuff that makes me ignore everything I hear from medical authorities, at least as regards weight. Thank God I have found a doctor that doesn't ascribe to these wildly unrealistic standards. The more I read and experience personally, the more I've come to believe that "weight" per se is pretty much irrelevant. (Although abdominal (visceral) fat does seem to screw up your insulin sensitivity if you're diabetic as I am.) Even Dr. Oz, Oprah's appointed medical guru, admitted on Charlie Rose the other night, "Big thighs won't kill you."

wysechilde July 27th, 2007 | Link | And another thing

Inspired by the delightful Joy Nash, I've lately been telling people my true weight, or at least my true weight range. (Not everyone, of course, but I want people to really know what a 200 + lb woman looks like). They're always amazed to learn "how heavy" I really am and I think the amazement is genuine. That's because they've been brainwashed into thinking a 160 lb woman is "obese."

Mandark July 30th, 2007 | Link | I suppose it's OT for this thread, but...

I remember having a conversation about how people are so shocked to hear how heavy their fat friends are. My husband is in denial--I recently told him the actual number on the scale, and he said "I don't believe that." Puzzled Like I would lie to you and exaggerate upwards?

beakergirl July 28th, 2007 | Link | It TOTALLY frustrates me

It TOTALLY frustrates me that the whole "BMI standards changed in 1998!" seems to have totally gone down the memory-hole as far as news outlets are concerned. They're all, "OMG WTF, everyone got fatter in the last nine years!!!'

Well, DUH. They got "fatter" because you redefined what it means to be "fat."

It's like redefining "blue" as "green" and then panicking because the sky's "changed color."

paul August 14th, 2007 | Link | Noted at Rebecca's Pocket

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