There has been nothing more popular in our society in the last three decades than weight loss and the idea of having the perfect “fit” figure, especially among women. This notion of having the perfect figure directly affects our economy and the way in which we as consumers not only view ourselves, but how we spend our money. As a result, the dieting industry makes over 4 billion dollars a year.
According to a study performed by the University of Central Michigan, 45% of women are on a diet on any given day, and 80% of women are dissatisfied with their appearance and would like to be thinner. However, this beauty ideal doesn’t stop with adult females. The above mentioned study noted that over 50% of 9 and 10 year old girls feel better about themselves when they are on a diet. Much of this surge in dieting has been a result of reports stating the overwhelming negative health effects of being overweight, but a new report published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has revealed that being “overweight” may be preventing people from contracting certain terminal diseases.
The most popular body weight measure in determining healthy body weight has been the Body Mass Index, or BMI. The BMI, invented around 1850 by Belgian mathematician Adolphe Quetelet, is a statistical measure used to determine a person’s healthy body weight based on the height of the person in question. To find one’s “healthy” body weight, the person’s weight in pounds is divided by the person’s squared height in inches. According to the measurement, a BMI calculation that falls between 18.5 and 25 is considered to be healthy, 25 to 30 is considered to be overweight, above 30 is considered to be obese, above 40 is considered to be morbidly obese, and below 18 is considered to be underweight.
According to the statistical reports of weight disease related deaths compiled by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 2004, there were more than 100,000 fewer deaths among the overweight. The statistics also found that although people who are overweight are slightly more likely than those of a “normal” weight to die from certain types of cancers, like ovarian, kidney, and breast cancer, they are less likely to die from other popular forms of cancer, like lung cancer.
Daniel McGee, a professor of Statistics at Florida State University, and Dr. Elizabeth Barrett-Connor, a professor of family and preventative medicine at the University of California in San Diego, both agree that the term “overweight” may be a misnomer. In the New York Times covering this study, Dr. Barrett-Connor stated that what is proposed to be overweight by BMI standards may actually be an optimal and healthy weight. Some of the researchers involved in compiling the statistics reports in 2004 believe that we as a society may need to change our ideas about what we believe to be an ideal weight.
Although there are several health risks to carrying excessive amounts of weight on a body, such as an overworked heart and the increased risk of high blood pressure, we may need to think differently about what we really view as overweight, not just for aesthetic reasons, but for the health of our society as well.
We may need to think outside of what the fashion world and the media tells us looks good, and we may also need to rethink our reliance on the Body Mass Index as an indicator of healthy or unhealthy body weight, and the ideas that we have about ideal weights, this time taking into account factors like bone structure, ethnicity, and general athletic activity. These changes will not only make us a healthier society, but a more confident one as well.