Losing weight is one of those perennial goals that people start in earnest this time of year. That includes runners vowing to shave their race times by paring down a few (or more) pounds. And thatís why many of us in the past week have headed to a calorie-counter or weight-loss site to first determine how much we can eat and still lose weight.
The Body Mass Index is a popular tool to determine an ideal weight. It’s the formula behind those online calculators asking current height and weight before graphically letting you know where you stand. The results can be surprising, and deceptive. Thin people are not necessarily healthier than heavier ones if they have a poor diet damaging their organs. But the BMI makes no distinction because it doesnít take into account what you eat or how often you work out. It has no idea of body fat versus muscle mass either. Numerically, agencies like the Centers for Disease Control consider anyone with a BMI of 25 or higher to be “overweight” and anyone under 18.5 to be too thin. Almost every U.S. professional football player falls way out of normal range on those charts. So did Michael Jordan when he played for the NBA and Arnold Schwarzenegger during his Mr. Olympia days.
Last year economist J. Eric Oliver published a book claiming Americans’ obesity epidemic is overstated by some influential doctors and members of government and fueled by social prejudice promoted by the billion-dollar drug and diet industries. BMI is widely used to track obesity statistics because of its neutrality, he explained, but its origins are rooted in astronomy. A Belgian named Adolphe Quetelet in the 1800s developed a mathematics law to predict the likelihood of a phenomenon based on repeated observations. To test his theory, he collected height and weight data on French and Scottish troops and found a range of weights to statistically constitute a normal distribution by heights. We know this better as a bell curve.
A century later, the insurance industry, in search of a mechanism to determine mortality rates, built upon those ancient charts by using similar weight ranges to help predict the likelihood of early death. The CDC eventually adopted the formula to determine American obesity levels.
There is no doubt that excess weight for runners—or anyone—has its drawbacks, which is why so many of us seek to be slimmer. The key is to lose the extra pounds slowly through proper portions and healthful foods while maintaining or eventually increasing calories expended through exercise. A good starting point in developing a sound strategy are 10 Tips from The President’s Council on Physical Fitness. Yes, these suggestions are designed for kids, but aren’t we all still children at heart?