We have all heard it: America is obese. We are obese, and it is all thanks to Surgeon General David Satcher claiming that America had the highest international body mass index (BMI) in 2001. It is widely accepted by medical professionals that a person’s obesity can be calculated through a their BMI, a nearly perfect ratio of a person’s height and weight (Surgeon General). But, this nearly perfect system is proving to be more imperfect than the latter; its perviously minor flaws: the system is gender and age specific in children under 15 and then uses the same criteria across the board for all men and women and beginning to not appear so minor. While these flaws were accepted for over a decade, there has been a spike in the number of medical professionals who are beginning to assert that the ratio should not be used when evaluating a person’s obesity due to the fact that it is not accurately reflective. The recent notion that medical scientists need to find a better, alternative method to the BMI ratio has lead many people to question weather or not Americans are in fact as over weight as the BMI system claims and weather or not their supposed obesity has lead many people to negatively look at fast food and other sugars. The BMI system has too many flaws and should not continue to be implemented into American medical practices to dictate the obesity of Americans.
A series of studies have proven that a person’s BMI does not accurately reflect his or her body fat percentage. A research team from Michigan State University conducted a study that proved, as previously noted, BMI does not accurately calculate body fat. The major issue that occurs is that the same criteria for BMI are used for all adults of a specific gender. According to the research team, it does not make any difference to the BMI system whether you are a 21 year-old olympic athlete or a 75 year-old, immobile man (BMI Not Accurate). According to the research team BMI should be used cautiously when classifying a persons fatness, especially amongst people who are college aged since most young adults have a high percentage of muscle mass (BMI Not Accurate). The system cannot distinguish the difference between fat and muscle. According to a 2004 study conducted by The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, the addition of calculating a persons waist circumference (WC) to their BMI is a better predictor of obesity risk and the illnesses that come with being overweight than the BMI system alone; however the evidence is inconclusive due to the fact that there is not a significant amount of data supporting this theory outside of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition’s own testing (Janssen, Ian). LiveStrong.com article Alternatives to BMI confirms this theory by stating that measuring the natural waist can give an almost accurate indication of the amount of abdominal fat a person contains. Women with WC of 35 inches or more and men with a WC of 40 inches or more are considered to be risk factors (Holley, Casey).
Ironically, the BMI system is self admittedly faulty. One of the biggest flaws in the system is people who obtain large amounts of muscle mass. While he or she may be physically fit, and relatively healthy, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) would consider a person fitting this description overweight (Devlin). Prime examples of the BMI system mistakenly classifying people are basketball star Kobe Bryant and actor Brad Pitt, none of whom appear to be overweight. Arnold Schwarzenegger, a world class body builder and actor, was categorized into the highest level of obesity (Devlin). With clearly faulty classifications such as these, how can we trust the system? The blatantly defective evidence that disproves the BMI system leads to the question of whether or not America really was the most obese nation in 2001 as previously stated by the Surgeon General and if it is still on the track towards chronic obesity.
After the Surgeon General announced not so subtly that Americans were, in simple terms, fat, many medical professionals began to notice a spike in the national desire to be more health conscious and physically fit. Much of this was due to the fact that numerous non-profit and government based organizations tried to influence the general public with negative images about being overweight and eating poorly; eating poorly meant primarily cutting out most sugars and processed foods. Men and women in America began to change much of their thinking when it came to what they ate. The biggest slam to any industry from the Surgeon General’s announcement came to the fast food industry because men and women were beginning to believe that eating at restaurants such as McDonald’s and Taco Bell were one of the key factors that played a role in American obesity. Contrary to this popular and often substantive belief, not all fast food restaurants are as detrimental to a person’s weight as previously believed.
McDonald’s is a prime example of this. Ever since the movie Super Size Me was released in 2004, exposing the dangers of a “super sized (Super Size Me),” or extra large, meal, McDonald’s has moved away from its long, publicly given title of the most unhealthy fast food establishment. While the movie helped change a great deal about McDonald’s and numerous other fast food establishments, they did not do all the work that has ranked McDonald’s 8th out of the top ten healthiest fast food establishments, according to a consensus produced by Health Magazine (Health Mag.). Other fast food chains such as Wendy’s or Taco Bell do not even make the cut. The magazine sent out a team of researchers to survey 100 fast food places, and scored them on factors such as the use of healthy fats and sodium counts, the availability of nutritional facts (which was previously hard to find in fast food chains), and the use of organic and natural produce. The article states that the once thought of as unhealthy restaurant is paving the way for other fast food industries in the currently “heart- and waist-friendly (Health Mag.)” society. One of the establishment’s most popular new techniques that has been incorporated into other establishments is the option to have a side of fruit with every happy meal instead of french fries. And, if you have to have the fries, their french fries are baked in CDA approved heart-healthy canola oil. Also, the chain offers low calorie options such as snack wraps which consist of a mere 260 calories (Health Mag.).
In 2009, leading expert in childhood obesity Robert Lusting stated in his lecture Sugar: the Bitter Truth, that sugar is “the most demonizing addictive known to man (Taubes, Gary),” labeling it the most toxic and poisonous food. Throughout his lecture, he attributed the incorporation of sucrose, commonly known as table sugar, and high fructose corn syrup, into foods as the leading factor of obesity. Most of these sugars are incorporated into fast foods and other processed goods. Yet, it is not useful to place all the blame of weight gain onto one food. While Lusting suggests and enforces the idea of cutting out sugar entirely, the Dietitians Association of Australia does not recommend this at all. In their medical journal entry Sugar: not so toxic, they state that when it comes to sugar, men and women should try to eat it in moderation and limit their intake of foods high in added sugar and low in nutritional value such as soda and candy (DAA).
If you have not seen the commercials proclaiming the goodness of high fructose corn syrup, then you should. Aside from their comical attributes, they are not wrong. What was conventionally known to be bad for your body, and toxic, according to Lusting, is far from it. Promoted by the Corn Refiners Association (CRA), the attempts to get high fructose corn syrup out of the toxic range are surprisingly being supported by the American Medical Association which recently announced that corn syrup does not contribute to obesity (McLaughlin, Lisa).
If the BMI system is clearly flawed and there are other better and more efficient methods of measuring the percentage of a person’s body fat, why are doctors still using it? If a person cannot accurately measure their actual fat percentage, how can we assume that America was at one time the world’s fattest nation? While it is clear that alternative methods to the BMI system are not yet medically accepted, it is also clear that to keep using the BMI system would not be beneficial towards the medical community in any means. The only absolute proof that has come from the realization that the BMI system is heavily flawed is the notion that America may in fact not be as obese as though of by the world’s populations. It is important that medical professionals continue to test alternative theories so that the public can be provided with a more reliable method of calculating a person’s body fat percentage.
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Holley, Casey. “Alternatives to BMI.” LIVESTRONG.COM. Web. 02 Apr. 2012. <http://www.livestrong.com/article/113959-alternatives-bmi/>.
Janssen, Ian. “The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.” Waist Circumference and Not Body Mass Index Explains Obesity-related Health Risk. Web. 02 Apr. 2012. <http://www.ajcn.org/content/79/3/379.short>.
“The Fattest Place On Earth.” The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, 01 Apr. 2011. Web. 02 Apr. 2012. <http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/01/04/the-fattest-place-on-earth_n_804361.html>.
“The Surgeon General’s Call To Action To Prevent and Decrease Overweight and Obesity.” Surgeon General. Web. 19 Mar. 2012. <http://www.surgeongeneral.gov/topics/obesity/calltoaction/1_1.html>