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Am I Obese? Or am I just a bit overweight?

It’s a word that we hear every time there’s a report on healthcare in America. If you’re like me, you would probably agree that you could do with losing a couple of pounds, but you wouldn't ever consider yourself obese. The word connotes images of the vastly overweight who struggle to walk around a grocery store and usually elect to ride along in one of those super dangerous supermarket trikes, or someone that needs help getting back up should they be unfortunate enough to fall over.

Growing up the eldest of four brothers, there were the obvious taunts of eating too many pies and being fat and of questionable parentage, (never understood that one I was after all, the first born) but in ongoing sibling banter, I consider myself to be a bit of an athlete. My self-image isn't one of being a fatty although my youngest brother does think that I must have slimming mirrors in my house.

I like to think of myself as a relatively fit 51 year old male. I believe I eat well, plenty of veggies and fruit, not that much meat, rarely eat fast food, (less than once a month), I swim at least twice a week and a mile each time at that.  I play soccer on an over 50’s men’s team in Atlanta that competes strongly at a national level. I’m playing tennis tonight. I occasionally will go mountain biking with some friends, go through phases of running and enjoy the occasional game of squash.

So it came as bit of a shock when I did the BMI math after scanning The State of Ageing and Health in America 2013 which focuses on the health of adults aged 65 years or older in the United States and was supported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, but I’m pleased I did – at least I think I am.

I've had to re-adjust my self-image which is arguably a good thing for my overall health. One big bummer is that I definitely need to drink less which is as much to do with my perception of what is binge drinking and what the CDC defines as binge drinking.

Let's tackle the Body Mass Index equation first.  It had me questioning both my math and my calculator. But there’s no denying the result. The equation is fairly straight forward.

BMI is calculated by dividing a person’s weight in kilograms by his or her height in meters squared (kg/m2).

So I’m 5 foot 10 inches or 1m.78cm and my weight is 204lb (all muscle I might add) which is 92.53 kilos Obesity is defined as having a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or higher.

So 92.53 divided by 3.168 (1.78 x 1.78) = 29.20 BMI

Yep I’m under the 30 but it’s a close one. I’m just one more burrito supreme and a six pack away from hitting that not so magic number.

In 1984, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) established the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS) and the BRFSS became a nationwide surveillance system in 1993, using self-reported data about height and weight. More than 500,000 interviews were conducted in 2011, making the BRFSS the largest telephone survey in the world

Because the data is self-reported it may lead to under estimating obesity in the United States. The National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), which takes body measurements, estimates the prevalence of obesity among older adults at 34.6%.

Three things jump out here. The first is that at 51years of age I am now close to being bundled as “an older adult”. The second is that 34.6 % means that one in three older people are obese which seems really high. The third is that the number is most likely higher.

There is some solace though if, like me, your numbers appear to be off but you appear in the magic mirror as comparatively slim. The US Centers for Disease Control recommends using both the BMI and your weight circumference to determine whether you are at a healthy weight. A waist over 35 inches for non-pregnant women and over 40 inches for men indicates a higher risk of obesity-related conditions, according to the CDC, and although some days I don’t need to wear belt, the last pair of Levis I bought were 34/30, which lends credence to my theory that as an athlete I’m all muscle.

So am I close to being obese or not? I guess it depends on what guide you use. The ideal body weight calculator tells you your ideal body weight according to 4 different formulas, Reversed BMI, The Hamwi formula, The Devine formula and the Robinson formula, which for me ranges from 130 to 174 lbs which is quite a spread if you’ll pardon the pun.

It’s tough to argue with four calculators. In a best case scenario I’m at least 30 lbs over weight and I have to admit this comes as a shock. I’ve also discovered I’m a regular binge drinker.

The State of Aging and Health in America in 2013 defines binge drinking defined as women consuming four or more drinks and men consuming five or more drinks on a single occasion. So if on a Saturday night you settle down for the night to watch a movie at home with your favorite bottle of red (or white for that matter) and polish it off, well, you've just been on a binge. Pick up a six pack on the way home after work on a Friday night and there’s none left in the fridge in the morning, yep you binged. If on occasion you might join the missus in a glass of wine after you've tossed the last beer can in the trash- well you may as well consider yourself on a bender. This is where the cultural differences may come in to play too. In what I call the Commonwealth countries, England, Canada, Australia, downing a six pack of beer in no way would be considered a party let alone a binge – it’s barely a warm up. Similarly, in the US if you turn up at an NFL party at a friend’s house with a six pack tucked under your arm, they probably won’t let you in the door. It’s a 12 pack event minimum.

Having said all that, the report has certainly helped change my perception of being at risk for alcohol and weight related health issues but it seems to me that the real challenge is to change public perceptions as to what normal weight and safe drinking levels really are.  I was quite a bit off the mark.

I guess we all need new mirrors at home. 

The personal views and ideas of Stephen O'Hare, President of Pedors Shoes in no way reflect the views of the Pedors Shoe Company, the staff, friends or family members - especially his family members.