Stories tagged weight


Man, there has been a ton of obesity-related news this week (no pun intended).

Weight problem: This will be almost half of us by 2030 if we don't shape up.
Weight problem: This will be almost half of us by 2030 if we don't shape up.Courtesy FatM1ke

Mothers of overweight toddlers believe their children are smaller than they actually are.

Bans on school junk food pay off in California.

The US obesity rate could hit 42% by 2030. (How accurate are those predictions, anyway?)

Prepregnancy obesity could lead to lower child test scores.

Kids who sleep in their parents' bed (those that don't suffocate when a parent rolls over on them or die of SIDS, that is -- the studies are conflicting) are less likely to be overweight than kids who always sleep on their own.

(Also, Meow, a literal "fat cat," has died from complications related to his morbid obesity. This kitty weighed in at a whopping 39 pounds! And, yes, I realize that this one is a little off-topic.)

I could go on. There are also a lot of "fixes" out there for the obesity epidemic--everything from national policies to questionable medical devices and weight-loss pills or "cleanses" to "personal responsibility." Ultimately, though, the individual solution to a weight problem means balancing calories in vs. calories out. And it's almost summer here in Minnesota, so get out there and do something. Take a walk over lunch. Ride your bike to and from work. Use the stairs instead of the elevator. It turns out that you only need 20 minutes of moving around to get most of the benefits of exercise and that 100 fewer calories a day can have a major effect: 10 pounds in a year. And dropping 500 calories per day can mean a weight loss of almost a pound a week.

I thought this BMI visualizer was pretty cool. Give it a try. It will probably inspire you to go jogging or something...


Stonehenge: A 19th Century engraving of the mysterious monument.Courtesy Mark Ryan
Stonehenge is back in the news. Archaeologists working on the mystery-laden prehistoric site located in south central England have now pinpointed the time of its construction to around 2300 BC. This radiocarbon-derived date connects it more closely with burial date of the Amesbury Archer, a wealthy metalworker from Europe’s alpine region, whose tomb was discovered not far from Stonehenge. Examination of the archer’s corpse revealed damage to his knee and other potentially fatal health issues.

This has led Tim Darvill and Geoff Wainwright, the two professors heading the excavation, to believe that the circle of megalithic stones existed as a healing center. Not everyone agrees, but you can find out all the details here. The dig's progress is also being recorded for an upcoming BBC Timewatch documentary.

All very well and good. But scientists remain uncertain as to how these huge stone monoliths were put in place by Stonehenge’s ancient technopeasant builders. Well, Wally Wallington, a retired construction worker in Flint, Michigan, just might have the answer. This following video came to my attention this past weekend, and I find it quite impressive and amazing. See for yourself.


BBC website story
More about Stonehenge
Guardian website story
More on the Amesbury Archer

Those ten extra pounds
Don’t come from constant munching—
It’s all in your head!
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Sci-ku ™ -- haiku in the service of science!

Coming on the heals of a very successful effort to charge higher health insurance premiums to state worker who smoke (and thus leading them to quit), the state of Alabama is taking things to the next level. It's given state workers notice that they will pay higher insurance rates if they're overweight, don't get a regular check-up and don't show progress in lowering their weight. Read the full details here.

A recently-completed survey in Great Britain shows that, while the number of overweight or obese people has increased, fewer people correctly classify themselves as overweight according to their body-mass index (BMI).

Do you know your BMI, and how you're classified? (Here's how to calculate.) Having a general sense of where you fall along the spectrum might help you make decisions about food and exercise choices before you develop a problem.


People who are overweight stand a greater risk of dying from some diseases, but not for othersCourtesy Roger Cullman

Pretty bad. People who are overweight are more likely to die from diabetes and kidney failure than the general population. And people who are obese are more likely to die from heart disease and certain types of cancer.

These common-sense truths were reconfirmed last week by a report from the Centers for Disease Control, which analyzed decades of data from 39,000 Americans. However, the news was not all bad. For instance, obese people had the same overall mortality rate from cancer as the population as a whole. Which means that while they were at greater risk of dying from cancers that attack fatty tissues (including the breast, uterus, ovaries, kidneys, colon, throat and pancreas), they were actually less likely to die from other forms of cancer.

For folks who are overweight but not obese, the picture is even more complicated. Neither cancer nor heart disease killed this group at higher-than-average rates. In fact, researchers found lower mortality in this group for all other causes of death, including infectious diseases and accidents.

The researchers aren’t sure why this should be. One theory is that carrying a little extra fat – but not too much – gives the bodies the energy reserves it needs to fight off illness.

Another possibility is raised by the way the study defined “overweight” and “obese.” They did not measure the patients’ body fat directly, but rather used a mathematical calculation known as the Body Mass Index or BMI. This widely-used tool gives doctors a rough estimate of a person’s body fat – a number over 25 classifies a person as “overweight.” A BMI 30 or higher qualifies as “obese.”

The trouble is, BMI basically divides weight by height (with a couple other calculations thrown in for fun). The greater the weight, the higher the BMI for a given height. The problem is, people can add weight as fat, or they can add weight as muscle. Somebody who exercises a lot may be strong, healthy… and have a BMI that qualifies as overweight.

If that’s the case, then that would explain why the “overweight” group fights off disease and injury so well. Which is good news if you’re fit, but not so good news if you’re flabby.


He only looks short?: I don't know. He looks like a darn hobbit here.  (image from Wikimedia commons)
He only looks short?: I don't know. He looks like a darn hobbit here. (image from Wikimedia commons)
According to the BMC Public Health journal, kids these days are both taller and heavier than kids, uh… used to be.

At any rate, BMC compared the height, weight, and body-mass indexes (a sort of weight to height ratio) of teenagers during a 1966-1969 study period to those of teens from a 1995-1997 study. The mean height, weight, and body-mass indexes for almost all age and sex groups increased significantly.

While these figures might initially provoke comments on childhood obesity, BMC is quick to point out that in increase in the mean body-mass index isn’t necessarily a bad thing – rather, it suggests that childhood nutrition is improving. The exceptions to the increasing means, in this case, may be more significant.

The study indicated that while all males age 14-18, as well as 18-year-old females, showed increased body-mass indexes, females aged 14-17 were entirely exempt from the trend, and perhaps were suffering from being underweight.

This study got me thinking - if I ever have children, I hope they remain smaller than me for the duration of my life. I think it would be too frustrating to have to physically look up to my kid.

The study also reminded me of something that has come up in my conversations several times in the last week: Napoleon’s height.

Now, the height of the little emperor may not be related to this article in any significant way, but I think it’s important that everyone is aware of the debate. We all know that Napoleon was a little guy, right? Historians generally agree that Bonaparte’s height was just about 5’ 2”, which is, of course, nothing to be embarrassed about, but it’s relatively tiny, especially in this day and age of towering, lumbering teenagers (see the BMC Public Health journal). However, some have argued that this measurement was originally taken in French inches. What’s the difference? Just this: your French inch is slightly larger than your Imperial inch (which we use). If this was the case, Napoleon’s true height would have been about 5’ 6”. No Yao Ming, but 5’ 6” was slightly taller than the average Frenchman of the early 19th century. He would likely have appeared short, because Napoleon was often surrounded by members of his elite guard, who were almost always 6’ or taller.

Then again, Napoleon was reported to have been measured after his death, on British-controlled St. Helena. This would suggest that he was indeed measured in British inches. And let’s not rule out the influence of propaganda one either side.

It’s a tricky problem to solve, but it’s important that we do. How else will we figure out Bonaparte’s body-mass index? While he lost weight shortly before he died (and how that happened is another mystery), we do know that he weight approximately 200 pounds in the last year of his life. 5’ 2” and a deuce is impressive, but we can’t say for sure, can we.

So how are we to figure out Napoleon’s height? I suggested recently that someone could examine his portraits for various items that could be used as a scale (if only he were depicted holding a #2 pencil more often!). I thought this was pretty clever, but then it was suggested that, instead, someone just go and dig him up to measure his skeleton. This seems awfully rude, though, and not very much fun (unless you’re into that sort of thing).

So, in the name of science and a more accurate picture of changing body-mass indexes, does anyone have an idea on how to best determine Napoleon’s true height? An idea, that won’t result in your being haunted by a tiny Frenchman?


How obesity is spread: Just kidding, obesity my not be physically contagious but could your friends play a role in your weight?Photo courtesy Henry Li
How obesity is spread: Just kidding, obesity my not be physically contagious but could your friends play a role in your weight?
Photo courtesy Henry Li
A new study that looked at 32 years of data shows that your chubby pals might be making you fat. No seriously, researchers looked at a long term heart disease study that tracked people's weight as well as their friends and family members. By analyzing connections in people's social network they found that when one person gained weight, their friends were more likely to gain weight as well. Interestingly the effect was stronger with friends than it was with families.

The article above features more formal speculation by the scientists about the reasons for this correlation. However, in my unprofessional opinion this makes tons of sense. I mean acceptable body size and eating habits seem heavily affected by the people you hang out with. Eating is almost always social for me and as a result there is social pressure to eat in similar ways to everyone else I know. I mean I sure don't take the ladies on dates to Burger King, but then again when I am hangin' with some more "shlubby" of my "dude" pals I am more likely to strap on the feed bag at the OCB. But for the most part my friends eat healthy and in moderation and as result so do I...most of the time.

I've even experienced social pressure to reign in bad eating habits. I am a bit of a candy addict...that's probably an understatement. You know when you find your self at Super America at 3am buying a creamy long john, nerd rope, 32oz. of Coke, and a pack of Chewey Runts, well you have a problem. But, I digress. Since these habits fall outside of the norm for my social group I regularly feel pressured not to engage in this obviously detrimental behavior. Which, trust me, isn't a bad thing.

I would love to see more studies looking at the social aspects of the obesity epidemic. And I especially would love to hear your ideas on this subject.

The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition recently drew a correlation between drinking excess amounts of soda or sugary drinks and weight gain. Researchers stated an extra soda or sugary drink a day can pile on fifteen extra pounds in a year.