BMI says I'm obese, but do you think I look obese?
Every time I start thinking about the issue of obesity in the United States, I can't help but ponder that maybe our definition of what constitutes an "obese" person is somewhat skewed. Especially when we are using body mass index (BMI) to determine who is overweight and obese compared to those considered in the "normal" range. Sure, there are lots of overweight and obese people walking around in the world today, but what about those people who are given the label, but don't look like they are "obese?"
My recent announcement to begin my "30-in-30" Low-Carb Weight Loss Challenge to lose 30 pounds in 30 weeks in an effort reach my goal of 210 pounds by February 2007 brought this subject to the surface recently as one of my readers known as Invisible Blogger wrote in response to this post about the challenge that I will always remain overweight or obese as long as I stick to livin' la vida low-carb without controlling my fat, calories or portions.
"Right now your BMI is 30, your goal BMI at 210 pounds is 26.2," he wrote in the comments section to my post. "Jimmy, please take this in the spirit of brotherly love and concern, the cold hard fact of the matter is [while he didn't actually say this, the clear insinuation is "you are currently obese" and] even your goal of 26.2 is still overweight. For a guy your height, your goal weight really ought to be under 200 pounds."
I responded to Invisible Blogger in this blog post which garnered a wonderful discussion among many of my readers about this whole issue of BMI and obesity. Now, let me take that discussion just a little further with this new blog post.
When I started on my "30-In-30" challenge at the beginning of August, my weight was 240 pounds, which is right on the bottom end of being obese. YOU HEARD ME RIGHT! Even after losing 180 pounds in 2004 and greatly improving my weight and health, the 30.1 BMI number at my 240-pound weight makes me a part of that one-third of Americans who are considered obese. YIKES!
According to the BMI calculator I used, this puts me in the 79th percentile for my age and height group which means nearly 8 out of ten men in their 30's who are 6'3" tall weigh LESS than me. Really? Jimmy Moore is "obese?" LOL! Oh, that's a good one. ROTFL! Hee hee! Sigh...what's sad is there are people who actually BELIEVE BMI is the BEST way to determine if someone is obese or not.
Take a good look at that picture at the top of this blog post I had my wife take of me today right before I went to the gym to workout. Is this the body of an obese man to you?
If I'm obese TODAY, I wonder what they would describe me as in 2004 when I tipped the scales at 410 pounds with a BMI of 51.2 in the 99th percentile?!?!?!?! M-m-m-m-morbidly obese?!?! This is why the BMI as the measurement of determining whether someone has a weight problem is ridiculous and irresponsible. That is why the move is on to change from BMI to the waist-to-hip ratio instead since it is a better measurement of obesity than BMI.
Not only have I transformed myself radically from that lazy fat slob I used to be into an energetic athletic man who is now in shape, my body fat was measured last October after livin' la vida low-carb for nearly two years at 11 percent. This can be directly attributed to my daily workouts at the YMCA and building up muscle mass in my body where fat used to be. I expect to have my body fat measured again sometime in the next couple of months and don't anticipate any major differences from last year.
This brings me back to the whole question of describing me and my current physical condition as "obese." Nobody will argue with you that when I was a 400-pounder that I was most definitely obese.
Here's a picture of me from back THEN:
I was a very big boy indeed. But now? Can that distinction of "obese" or even "overweight" apply to me now?
Friend and fellow low-carb blogger Regina Wilshire, who I was able to meet in January during the Nutritional & Metabolic Aspects of Carbohydrate Restriction conference in Brooklyn, New York, said she has seen me and can vouch about what I look like now.
"Anyone who meets you in person, the very last thing that could ever enter their mind is 'damn, he's obese'....you're not," Regina wrote to me after reading my blog post about this subject.
Interestingly, she added that my weight loss goal for the "30-In-30" challenge may be more difficult for me to attain this time around than it was in 2004 because my bone density "increased significantly" when I was over 400 pounds as well as my lean body muscle mass.
"I've yet to meet anyone who has been that heavy and then able to reach 'ideal' BMI weight due to the increased pounds in their bones and muscles -- two major important factors why many who used to be very heavy can't get back to previous low weights," Regina contended.
Also, she said that my excess, loose skin is another 10-15 pounds "easily" which could account for why the weight loss this time around may not come pouring off. I'm okay with that and certainly appreciate what she said.
She concluded that the bottom line is, "You're not obese and your body will fight to not lose too much!"
Okay, so my increased bone density and muscle mass along with the hanging, loose excess skin (or what some people have told me is actually excess fat) all add up to extra pounds that would not otherwise be there for most people my height and age, right? So, perhaps my BMI is elevated because of all these things and therefore the whole issue of being "obese" is probably just a moot point.
It still makes you wonder how many other people out there are placed in the category of "obese" and have no business being there either. Are there a whole bunch of people like me who should not be classified as "obese?"
This is me and I'm proud of what I look like weight-wise in August 2006. You can even see a little bit of my loose skin hanging from beneath my shirt in that photo above--another reminder of just how far I have come. When I lose my 30 pounds in 30 weeks (and I'll bust my tail to do it as part of my "30-In-30" Low-Carb Weight Loss Challenge!), I will then reevaluate whether I need to lose any more weight or just be content with being 210...and STILL overweight according to BMI.
But, I will be a mere 10 pounds away from the "normal" range for my BMI and I'll probably be okay with that considering my skin weight if it can even be removed with put me below that magic weight of 200 where I will then allegedly be at my "normal" weight (whatever the heck that is!).
I'm curious, though, let's take an informal poll today at my blog to see how many people think I LOOK obese from the photograph I posted today. Be honest and feel free to explain why or why not in your response.
If we are ever going to try to help people deal with their weight problems, then we have to make the definitions of the terms we use more concrete and practical so that people will know what we are talking about.
Is this the body of an obese man you see at the top of this post?
8-16-06 UPDATE: I came across an op-ed piece in Rocky Mountain News today from University of Colorado law professor Paul Campos about this exact same subject. Campos writes a weekly column at the newspaper and even has a book about this topic entitled "The Obesity Myth: Why America's Obsession with Weight is Hazardous to Your Health." Might be worth checking out!