Monday, October 14, 2013

An average guy's body

just an average American guy
image: Nickolay Lamm
This is Todd. He's overweight. Which makes him an average American.

What's average? Todd is a U.S. male between 30 and 39 years old. His body mass index (BMI) is 29, one unit shy of the medical definition of obese. He's five-feet-nine-inches (175 cm) tall, his waist is 39 inches (99 cm).

As the issue of health care continues to plague the U.S., this article in The Atlantic magazine seemed curiously relevant to the country's future economic, as well as social, well-being. You've heard or read about the obesity epidemic, both in the U.S. and, increasingly, the world. U.S. obesity rates have doubled since 1970, to over 30%, and more than two-thirds of Americans are now overweight.

People that are overweight have higher chances of contracting many serious diseases – including coronary heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, osteoarthritis, and high blood pressure – than leaner folks.

A higher percentage of overweight workers in a society increases both the direct medical costs (e.g. more expensive treatment) and indirect costs (reduced productivity, more days lost to illness or rest, restricted activity, and lost income from injury or death). In 2008 dollars, these costs totaled around $147 billion in the U.S. alone.

But what does this mean for your average person, like Todd?

Here are the physical depictions of "average" men in four countries: the U.S., Japan, Netherlands, and France. Not a globally representative group, unfortunately, but they do differ.

4 average guys from the U.S., Japan, Netherlands, France
image: Nickolay Lamm

They were generated by artist Nickolay Lamm using the average heights, weights, and BMIs of men in these 4 countries. (The images focus on average body measurements, rather than face, color, or distinguishing features).

Here are their measurements:
29 BMI
176.4 cm height
99.4 cm waist
23.7 BMI
171.4 cm height
82.9 cm waist
25.2 BMI
183.3 cm height
91 cm waist
25.55 BMI
174.4 cm height
92.3 cm waist
What is BMI? Here's an explanation and a calculator, with a reminder that the index was not designed to assess very active people or make medical diagnoses!

Changing lifestyles for the worse?

As lifestyles and diets have changed over time, so have relative heights of men from these various countries. Both Dutch and Japanese men are taller, on average, than they were 25 years ago.

Americans, more so than the others, have grown softer and rounder. According to The Atlantic article, "Fifty years ago, American Todd would not have been round."

4 average guys, showing their best side
image: Nickolay Lamm

This trend, however, is not unique to Americans, nor to men.

Research in the U.K. has shown that even where people continue to be physically active, they are eating 1/3 more calories than they did 25 years ago, and their "weight levels have rocketed."

eating more = heavier folks in the U.K.
photo: ALAMY, in The Telegraph

How can we help Todd (and his lady friends Tina and Terri!) slim down and tighten up?

C'mon, have a guess! Yes, I'm afraid, diet and exercise,particularly the diet part.

Some of the recommended actions I've found while researching this blog include:

It's not just a shameless plug for my earlier posts, it's Important.

The infections and injuries that killed most of our early ancestors (as well as, for instance, chimpanzees, today) have been replaced by chronic, non-communicable diseases, such as cancer and diabetes, that were rare even among the elders of early human societies. Japanese men and women live longer than people in other countries, in part due to a relatively low-fat diet and corresponding lower rates of heart disease, a chief cause of death in western countries.

For more on the health and economic effects of the prevalence of obesity in America, watch the documentary, The Weight of the Nation – or at least the trailer – for some sobering stats and predictions.

The complete set of images and some details on the average man's measurements are at a post by the artist, Nickolay Lamm.

And what about you? Are you average? For what country?


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