Body mass index

Should You Pay Attention to Your Belt? Or the Scale?

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You’ve probably heard that two-thirds of American adults are overweight and one-third obese. But what’s at the root of these numbers? The most popular marker for obesity, body-mass index (BMI), has always been a poor means for judging body composition. Yet it is used by default by most fitness professionals and doctors. Our cultural obsession with statistics is not necessarily helpful either.

In fact, if you plug BMI into Google a handy calculator pops up. Type in your weight and height and you receive a number in under a second. The measure is simple: your mass divided by the square of your height. Under 18.5 percent and you’re underweight; from there to 25 and you’re normal; next step is to 30, overweight; three degrees of obesity follow the 30 percent marker.

The problem is that bodies are vastly different. We carry weight in different places, and where you carry weight is more relevant than how much weight you’re carrying. That’s what researchers at Leeds Beckett University showed in a new study published in PLOS ONE. For people carrying weight around your middle the news is not good.

The team, led by Dr Michelle Swainson, first measured the body fat of eighty-one participants using a bone density scanner, which is the most accurate means of measurement. The problem is an x-ray is required, which is time consuming and expensive, and so not applicable for most doctor’s offices or gyms.

Her team then measured those results against five common predictors of body fat composition: BMI, waist-to-hip ratio, waist-to-height ratio, waist circumference,…

More Americans Are Giving Up on Losing Weight. Where Do We Go From Here?

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According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 16 percent of children in the US ages 6-19 years are overweight or obese, three times the amount since 1980. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Halfway through March those January resolutions are likely a fleeting memory, dreams of a prior person that would have been nice, if only. The very idea of annual change has become a recurring joke. Unfortunately so has one of most common resolutions: losing weight.

Only this joke isn’t funny for numerous Americans struggling with their weight. According to new research, more people are abandoning any hope of shedding pounds. Strangely, as obesity is becoming more socially accepted, more people are becoming more comfortable with it. Research authors at Georgia Southern University’s College of Public Health believe this phenomenon is playing a role in reducing motivation by lowering perceived markers of healthiness.

Weight is a complex topic. Over the last fourteen years I’ve worked with thousands of clients and students dealing with a range of body issues, weight and body image at the top. There is no silver bullet for eliminating obesity as genetics, nutrition, activity levels, stress, mental health, and environmental conditions all play a role.

Add to this the fact that the body mass index marker commonly used to measure obesity is flawed. Thin does not always equate to healthy, while many people who store a few extra pounds are in exceptional shape. Any time I tackle this subject the nuanced realities of divergent bodies and histories have to come into play. It’s not easy to come to terms with the fact that some people eat terribly and remain thin, but that doesn’t make it untrue. Having grown up overweight, I’m on the side that needs to eat very well and keep moving to maintain my health.

That said, this research is disturbing for a few reasons. While progress is definitely being made when we don’t perceive emaciated cover models and six-pack abs as the only vision of fitness—and when we stop fat shaming without recognizing the complex mechanisms of metabolism—there is no excuse for surrendering the quest for better health because more people believe we’re inherently an overweight animal.

A 2010 study in Obesity notes that while health benefits from improved body image are possible, the shift in perception also renders mute the…