Health Police Manufacture An Epidemic

No one likes being called “fat,” “overweight,” or — most of all — “obese.” But the truth hurts, and the sooner Tom Cruise, Mark McGwire, Michael Jordan, and President Bush acknowledge their bloated physiques, the sooner they can trim down. What’s that you say? These fitness fanatics aren’t fat? They are indeed, according to the federal government’s Body Mass Index (BMI) standard, which uses only height and weight to classify folks as obese, overweight, or government-approved.

A BMI of 30 or more tags you as obese. At 5 feet, 7 inches and 201 pounds, Tom Cruise scores a BMI of 31. Likewise, back in his homerun hitting days, Mark McGwire (6-5, 250 lbs.) was considered “obese” due to his BMI of 30. Our super-fit President and Michael Jordan are only slightly better off, according to the BMI scale. They score 26 and 25 respectively, and are therefore “overweight.”

The BMI standard is laughable. Even the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention acknowledges: “Overweight may or may not be due to increases in body fat. It may also be due to an increase in lean muscle.” In other words, the Body Mass Index is a poor judge of an individual’s health or ideal weight. Just ask Mel “Porker” Gibson (5-9, 214 lbs., BMI of 32).

Adding to the lunacy, one night in 1998 the BMI scale arbitrarily shifted, instantly casting more than 30 million previously government-approved Americans into the “overweight” category. Movie star Will Smith (6-2, 210 lbs., BMI of 27) went to bed a hunk, and woke up a chunk. The BMI standard that we abandoned in 1998 was equally suspect, but at least it distinguished between men and women — something that the current standard doesn’t even attempt to do.

And now the World Health Organization (WHO) wants to begin determining “acceptable” BMI levels according to race. If WHO gets its way, Asians will join the “Last Samurai” in the obese category if their BMI hits 26 (5-7 and 163 pounds, for example). And a BMI of just 22 — perfectly “healthy” for most of us, even by WHO’s ever-tightening standards — will make an Asian “overweight.” At 5-8, 160 pounds, BMI of 24, martial arts extraordinaire Jackie Chan would suddenly become a certified fatty.

The faulty Body Mass Index doesn’t serve the health interests of Americans. It only serves the meddlesome interests of trial lawyers and food cops. Thanks to the BMI standard, we are incessantly bombarded with the misleading statistic that 61 percent of Americans are overweight or obese. Such figures are the weak statistical foundation on which food activists build their nutritional utopias, including arguments for fat taxes and obesity lawsuits. And they are the reason Harrison Ford (6-1, 218 lbs., BMI of 29) is a biscuit shy of obesity.

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