October 16, 1996 in Nation/World

Statistically, Being Fat Is Now Normal Overweight People Become Majority In U.S., Study Shows

Daniel Q. Haney Associated Press
 

Flab is now the norm.

For the first time, overweight people outnumber normal-sized ones in the United States, according to the latest government statistics, released Tuesday.

The reasons are not entirely clear.

Katherine Flegal of the National Center for Health Statistics in Hyattsville, Md., who outlined the data, said many small reductions in physical activity might be to blame.

She noted the development of the TV remote control, which keeps people planted on the couch all evening, and fear of crime, which gives them another reason to stay inside.

“It’s just eating too much,” contended Dr. Albert J. Stunkard of the University of Pennsylvania. “Physical activity hasn’t increased enough to make up for it.”

Whatever the reason, the latest government figures show just how fat the country has gotten.

Federal guidelines suggest that people should keep their body mass indexes under 25. Anything more than that is too much.

Body mass index, or BMI, quickly is becoming the standard way of talking about obesity because it is an easy way to compare the fatness of people of different heights. BMI is body weight in kilograms divided by height in meters squared. A woman 5 feet 4 who weighs 145 pounds has a BMI of 25.

The National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, conducted on 30,000 people between 1991 and 1994, shows that 59 percent of American men and 49 percent of women have BMIs over 25. Ten years earlier, 51 percent of men and 41 percent of women were this heavy.

Flegal presented the figures at a meeting of the North American Association for the Study of Obesity.

“It’s been clear for several years that Americans are getting fatter, and it’s accelerating. That’s troubling,” said Dr. Tim Byers of the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center.

People in their 50s are the fattest. The survey found that 73 percent of men and 64 percent of women this age have BMIs over 25.

However, the survey also found overweight increasing among pre-teen children, too.

Extreme obesity is also becoming more common. The survey found 2 percent of men and 4 percent of women have BMIs over 40 - double the rate a decade ago. A 5-foot-4 women with a BMI of 40 weighs 230 pounds.

While a BMI of 25 is probably not particularly bad, experts say significant health problems begin to emerge when people’s BMIs hit 27. That’s 155 pounds for the 5-foot-4 woman.

Flegal noted, however, that some weight-related health ills do not appear to be rising with Americans’ increasing weights. The survey shows that cholesterol levels are falling, and blood pressure appears to be holding steady or dropping slightly. On the other hand, the statistics suggest that diabetes, which is also closely related to weight, may be increasing.

While there is no universally accepted definition of obesity, some experts call it a BMI of 30 or more. This is 175 pounds for the 5-foot-4 woman.

xxxx FIGURING YOUR MASS The government considers a body mass index over 25 to be too fat. Here’s how to figure yours: First, multiply your weight in pounds by .45 to get kilograms. Next, convert your height to inches. Multiply this number by .0254 to get meters. Multiply that number by itself. Then divide this into your weight in kilograms. Your answer probably will be a number in the 20s or low 30s. It is your BMI.


Thoughts and opinions on this story? Click here to comment >>

Get stories like this in a free daily email