Monday, June 15, 2009

What counts as obese/healthy?: BMI index and my 10k

Michelle at The Pretty Year wrote about how appearances can be deceiving and the BMI index isn't always the best judgment of someone's health. She says,
"When you talk about the Obesity Epidemic, you are talking about me. (And probably yourself. And that’s okay.) ...

“Oh, but you’re an exception! When I say obese, I mean, like, you know– fat people.”

That’s nice– but that’s not what the BMI says. And the BMI is a mathematical formula, so there’s no arguing. Statistics that talk about the percentage of Americans (or whomever) that are overweight or obese include me. Not that it matters whether or not I am subjectively “fat,” being that “fat people” are, you know– people. And not so much The ObeseTM. But who needs “subjective” when you have a nice, “objective,” highly scientistic, evidentiarial-based formula derived from two important, health-related numbers: height and weight.

I know how she feels. I hover between size 14 and 18, most often wearing a 16. By BMI standards, I'm right on the edge of overweight and obese. According to the scientific calculations of my height and weight, I'm one of those people that needs to buy two airplane seats, that uses the money "people like us" - ie, regular, non-obese, HEALTHY people - pay in for health insurance, that wears only stretch pants and eats ice cream.

But you know what? I ran a 10k this weekend. I ran and ran and didn't stop, not until 6.2 miles after I started. I didn't think I was going to be able to run the whole way, but I made it to mile 4 and thought, "Why not? I'll just keep going until I feel I can't go anymore."

Do you want to know how many non-obese people I passed while running? Or how many people started out running but then walked? Or once I passed them, started running again because apparently size 16 people aren't supposed to pass skinny people?

By BMI standards, I am obese and not possibly healthy. In my real life, a life that's not judged by standards of height and weight but by my accomplishments, I ran 6.2 miles on Saturday. You would think a person has to be at least marginally healthy to finish a 10k.

These are my family members who ran/walked the race with me. From left to right: my mom's aunt, my mom's cousin, my uncle's girlfriend, my other uncle and his baby boy, my mom, and me. With the exception of my mom's aunt, we all ran the whole race. By BMI standards, my mom is at the upper end of the healthy weight while I'm obese.

Let me say this - slow and steady wins the race. Or at least finishes without stopping. And the BMI index doesn't have the last word on healthy.

6 comments:

Amelia said...

What an amazing accomplishment, Lindsay. Regardless of BMI, anyone who can run a 10k is awesome in my eyes. :)

FeministGal said...

Congrats on the race!! :)

Lyndsay said...

Ditto what Amelia said. I don't know how far I can run but it's not 10k. Biking 10k with long hills is enough exercise for me.

tessarae said...

hurray! you did it! i am so proud of you.

Pharaoh Katt said...

I think the BMI is pretty bogus, honestly. Height and weight are two among many variables that affect health and fitness levels. The BMI does not take into account body shape, muscle weight vs. fat weight, bone density, hell, even breast size can affect your range!

Being able to run 10k is a huge achievement, and definitely indicates good health.

Of course, not being able to run 10k doesn't necessarily indicate bad health. So many other factors apply, including allergies and asthma and a host of other things.

So anyway, go you!

diana said...

Lindsay: Congrats on the 10k; that's awesome! Love this blog and would love to see more on this topic. I have been a fat activist for decades, and have found the following:

1. Most women don't get well into the "obese" category (300 or 400 pounds) without repeat dieting, or surviving famine. For some, having famine-surviving ancestry is enough. And some women are simply adipose-blessed: I know one woman who weighs in at a comfy 400, and who has no dieting/ famine history).

2. Health and weight are entirely different measurements. The one thing that's known is that "ideal" chart weight does not -- NOT -- correlate with highest longevity. That makes it an aesthetic standard, not a health standard. Highest longevity equates with a weight that is well into the 'overweight' category. It forms a U- or J-shaped curve. Until weights are at the very highest, or very lowest, there isn't a great deal of difference in longevity -- the curve has a wide, flat middle.

3. Everything we tend to think we know about health, weight, nutrition, all of it, is heavily influenced by corporate 'science.' Money talks, and since it backs studies, it speaks pretty loudly; it controls not only the culture, but the dialog about weight and health. I often ask 'who benefits?' when I read something new in this area. Usually it's not women!

4. What would western culture be like if women were allowed to be comfy inside their (our) skins? How much attention could be paid to the real issues that affect the planet, and the people and other beings upon it? Instead, too many female people are mind-bound, coerced into obsession with appearance, awareness of myriad "faults" and "flaws" with their own bodies, and even aware of how others' bodies and other parts of appearance rate. What if we truly accepted diversity, relished it even, and then paid attention to things we could change that really need it?