In June 2013, the American Medical Association made the controversial decision of classifying obesity as a disease. While we personally do not agree with this decision, there can be no doubt that obesity has reached pandemic proportions, both locally, and through much of the developed world.
According to the CDC, 34.9% (or 78.6 million Americans) of American adults are classified as obese (BMI > 30).Further, another approximately 17% (or 12.7 million) of American children and adolescents (aged 2 – 19) are obese. To put that in layman terms, 1 in 3 of adults and 1 in 6 of children and teenagers in America are obese! That is a sobering statistic. By the way, if we include those classified as overweight (BMI > 25), the percentage of adults rises to 69%.
Now I know what you are saying, BMI is not an accurate predictor of obesity because it doesn’t take into account body fat percentage! I know a jacked guy who has a BMI of over 30! Let’s address that ‘myth’. I say ‘myth’ because it isn’t that it’s not true, but that it’s statistically insignificant. Firstly, most muscular people with low body fat percentages, will likely fall into the ‘overweight’ category of BMI, and not ‘obese’.
For an extreme example, let’s take a look at Dwayne Johnson aka The Rock. As a mainstream Hollywood action star, the Rock has actually gotten far leaner and more muscular when compared to his WWE days.
What do the Rock’s stats tell us? It tells us that even at the extreme end of the muscularity range, his BMI has barely broken into the obese category! For most ‘normal’ muscular people, their BMI range is statistically likely to be not obese. So unless you see many people walking around with the Rock’s physique (or with physiques even better), the number of muscular people who are mistakenly misclassified as ‘obese’ according to the BMI scale is negligible.
In fact, the reality is the opposite! Since the BMI does not take into account body fat percentage (mainly due to the ease of measurement; BMI serves as a statistical analysis tool across populations, and not individuals), the number of obese people is actually UNDERREPRESENTED according to the BMI scale! This is because many people classified as ‘normal’ weight or ‘overweight’ according to the BMI are classified as obese according to body fat percentage (25% body fat for men and 35% for women).
Take a look at the results of the following two studies:
Study #1 (Sample Size: 6,123)
Overstatement of obesity:
Approximately 5% of individuals classified as overweight and 0.2% of those classified as obese by BMI actually had low levels of fat mass.
Understatement of obesity:
29% of subjects classified as normal weight and 80% of individuals classified as overweight according to BMI had a body fat percentage within the obese range.
Study #2 (Sample Size: 1,691)
Overstatement of obesity:
When sampling from the general population, over 95% of men and 99% of women identified as obese by BMI were obese via body fat levels.
Understatement of obesity:
BMI appeared to misclassify women as less fat as they were by DEXA; notable misclassifications include 20.3% of women being obese via BMI while DEXA showed 37.1%, 24.8% of men being obese via BMI compared with 38.4% of men being obese via DEXA. These results have been replicated in which persons in the normal BMI range were actually obese according to body fat percentage (20% of men, 9.2% of females) and more persons in the overweight BMI range were actually obese by body fat percentage (67.2% of men, 84.2% of females).
BMI does in fact make statistically significant errors when reporting obesity levels, however, BMI consistently UNDERREPORTS actual obesity statistics, as opposed to the prevailing myth that BMI over reports it. That makes the statistic of 34.9% of American adults being obese even scarier; the actual number is likely in the 40 – 50% range! If that isn’t a wakeup call, I don’t know what is.
What Can Be Done?
Everyone is tired of the trope of “Eat less and move more”. They’ve heard it a thousand times, nay, a million times before! Well guess what? It’s true! Calories in, calories out, is really just the basic law of thermodynamics. Of course, how many calories your body actually absorbs and how much it burns is where the variation comes in.
We will expound on that in future articles, but the trope holds true: the general population should eat a higher protein, higher fat, and lower carbohydrate diet (we recommend a 40/40/20 split, and we also recommend checking out The Protein Investor for a market analysis on the cheapest whey protein powders out there before making any purchasing decisions), while getting the recommended level of physical activity which according to the CDC is 2.5 hours of moderate intensity aerobic activity (brisk walking) and at least 2 days of muscle strengthening activities or 75 minutes of vigorous intensity aerobic activity (jogging/running) and 2 days of muscle strengthening activities per week.
Easier said than done of course. Stay tuned for strategies on how to optimize your nutrition and lifestyle for optimal fitness!
Thank you for reading.