Wonder Why the Government Likes BMI as a Measurement of Obesity?

Written By: Robert Cox

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Welcome Instapundit Readers! 6,000 reads and counting today. Thanks Glenn!

We’re broke here in the Empire State so you don’t know whether to laugh or cry as Albany starts to role out a program to require school districts across the state to collect height and weight measurements for every school-age child in New York so government bureaucrats can produce entirely meaningless BMI pronouncements about childhood obesity. And among the first to “benefit” from this munificent new program is our own beloved New Rochelle, former home of Lou Gehrig, Rob Petrie (aka Carl Reiner) and Norman Rockwell. The school district proclaims itself to be “honored” and “thrilled” to have been “selected” as a guinea pig beta-tester for this “vital” program.

Of course, we told you last week all the ways in which the BMI or the Body Mass Index is a complete fraud. So, you will read news reports like this one from the AP with a new sense of wonderment.

Blacks are most obese group, study finds

How can it be that government officials can get away with this sort of utter nonsense? Try to get through it without laughing out loud. We could not. More to the point if the CDC just spent two years studying this issue on a state-by-state basis, spending million to make a million phone calls, why does New York State now need to spend even more money collecting the very same sort of data? Can’t Albany bureaucrats just read the CDC report?

As you read on, you are supposed to believe that when a respected news source such as the AP, rattles off scientific sounding information provided by the imposingly-named Center for Disease Control that what you are reading just has to be true. As usual we get a description of BMI that while true only tells a part of the story:

Obesity is based on the body mass index, a calculation using height and weight. A 5-foot-7-inch adult who weighs 190 pounds would have a BMI of 30, which is considered the threshold for obesity.

Yes, and this is the very same BMI the very same Associated Press found to be a flawed measure based on an athlete study done by the AP back in 2005. Back then the AP ran the numbers for all of the players in the National Basketball Association and concluded that BMI was not a reliable indicator of relative fitness. The AP pointed out that BMI classifies incredibly fit adults like Kobe Bryant or Shaquille O’Neal as overight and obese, respectively. NPR recently pointed out that based on BMI, hollywood stars like Johnny Depp, George Clooney and Will Smith are all fat.

Obesity experts say the BMI really is a useful guide to identifying individuals who are too fat for their own good, but it shouldn’t be used by itself.

“The value of the BMI for the (general) population is it’s a good first step, and I underline ‘first step,”‘ says Dr. George Bray of the Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Baton Rouge, La.

“No one has ever suggested it’s the only criterion to use, because it clearly is not.”

So what happened in the last four years that would cause the AP to parroting facts and figures from a CDC report that not only is based solely on BMI, something they ridiculed in 2005, but where the height and weight data used was not even collected first hand.

So, where did they get the information for this latest study? Did they comb through government archives? Of course not, since the government does not maintain this information on all of its citizens (yet). Did they go out into the field and examine people? Nope. They just picked up the phone and touched someone — about a million times.

The data comes from a national telephone survey of more than 1 million Americans over the years 2006 through 2008.

Quite the scientific approach there by the CDC, huh? We all know that people never lie about their height and weight, right? And how much do you think it costs to call 1 million people over two years? Don’t ask.

The money quote from this story highlights just why the government loves the BMI so much. They do not actually have to go out and evaluate live human beings to gauge their relative fitness or do any real field work they can just sit in a call center, ring up your neighbor, ask for two pieces of personal data — height and weight — and type that into a government database.

But that’s not the best part.

The best part is that BMI allows these same geniuses to identify the source of the “bad” BMI numbers and, even better, proscribe a “solution” for the “problem” they have now manufactured through the clever combination of pseudo-science and statistical manipulation.

Experts believe there are several reasons for the differences. People with lower incomes often have less access to medical care, exercise facilities and more expensive, healthier food. In many places, minorities are disproportionately poor.

“Poverty is a very strong driver of obesity,” said Kelly Brownell, director of Yale University’s Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity

You knew that was coming, right?

The only way to deal with our “obesity epidemic” is to address the “poverty epidemic” — of course, as measured by yet another government psuedo-science statistic called the “poverty line”. And how do we deal with that? You guessed it, create more entitlement programs, programs to be run by the very same government that is funding the study, a study based on a statistical measure that is meaningless, where the statistics are unreliable and unverifiable but all point to the same convenient conclusion — the government needs more of your money.

And the media will now happily play along, running b-roll footage of some fat dude at Disney shoving ice cream in his pie hole or a fat mother and her fat kids waddling along through Frontierland, their butts bouncing up and down, as they stroll through the theme park in too-tight shorts and too-short t-shirts.

Laugh if you want but this is the same government that wants to ration your health care. Guess what? Fat people move to the back of the line under such a government-run health care system. Still laughing?

Parents! You have the right to opt-out of New York’s BMI collection frenzy. We recommend you do so pronto – and let your local state reps know that you know that BMI is a fraud and you want this program discontinued. To opt-out now call Dr. Adrienne Weiss, New Rochelle Schools Medical Director, at 914-576-4264 or you can email her at aweiss@nred.org and tell her “The BMI is a Fraud; Take My Kids Out of the New York State Program”.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Welcome Instapundit Readers! Thanks Glenn and sorry for the obesity illustration, it is rather horrible, isn’t it? No surprise but we appear to be getting readers who are not from New Rochelle visiting today so let me set the record straight on The Dick Van Dyke Show before the comment section is overrun.

Carl Reiner lived at 48 Bonnie Meadow Road in New Rochelle (with a Scarsdale, NY Zip Code). The Rob Petrie character is based on him and if you look at the pilot for the show you will see that the main character was originally played by Carl Reiner not Dick Van Dyke.

BTW, in the pilot program Carl Reiner is being hassled by the New Rochelle PTA because he agreed to write for the PTA newsletter and has been putting it off. Some things never change.

12 thoughts on “Wonder Why the Government Likes BMI as a Measurement of Obesity?”

  1. I can think of two reasons why the govt. likes BMI
    First, it’s quick, easy and cheap. Weight and height and done. Actual fat measurements are more complicated and require equipment that is expensive if you want to be accurate.

    Second, while BMI may be problematic on an individual scale, on a group scale, they are probably quite accurate. If you take a group of 1,000 people with BMIs of 30, sure, two of them might be Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal, but an overwhelming majority of them are just fat.

    Rob Petrie was played by Dick Van Dyke.

    1. BMI is ethnically biased
      You’re probably right that on a group scale, BMI is pretty accurate. On the other hand, BMI measurements are never used on a group scale; they are always used on an individual scale. As in, your health insurance plan thinks YOU are overweight because you have a high BMI, even though maybe you’re Kobe or Shaq, or just plain black or Samoan. Cold comfort to you that the other 999 people with an identical BMI have gigantic butts.

      And that’s the other big problem with BMI: there are whole ethnicities for which BMI is regularly distorted. So using BMI as an indicator of ANYTHING will by necessity bias whatever program you use it in against these ethnicities. (Samoans come to mind because we have a large Samoan community near where I live.) This makes BMI an exceptionally poor indicator of much of anything useful, and therefore the school district is wasting time and money.

      1. Red
        Saw it over and over again in the Army. Blacks that had been football players and had almost no “fat” exceeded the BMI weight limits. I just saw my BMI and as a real short guy, I measured obese when I was running 3+hr marathons. I wondered why we have an obesity epidemic – they change the metric.

    2. “probably” quite accurate?
      Did you read the original article by Dr. Wagner which linked to the NPR story?

      The guy who invented the BMI warned not to use it the way it is being used today.

      The logic put forward by the CDC is fallacious — someone who is fat will have a high BMI but someone with a high BMI is not necessarily fat. That is not a good measure, especially when there are better measures available such as waist size.

      If school nurses are doing to measure the height of a student why not get out a tape measure and measure their waist size? How much more effort is that?

      Since a rather obvious fix is available and not used you have wonder WHY New York State is asking districts to collect only height and weight data.

      BTW, the Dick Van Dyke show was written by Carl Reiner, he is the person who actually lived in New Rochelle on Bonnie Meadow, the character is based on him and if you look at the pilot you will see that the main character is played by Carl Reiner not Dick Van Dyke. You can watch it here:

      Hulu – The Dick Van Dyke Show: Pilot – Head of the Family – Watch the full episode now. http://bit.ly/34uIY

      BTW, in the pilot program Carl Reiner is being hassled b the New Rochelle PTA because he agreed to write for the PTA newsletter and has been putting it off.

      1. Taxes-What Else?
        “Since a rather obvious fix is available and not used you have wonder WHY New York State is asking districts to collect only height and weight data.”

        Well, since it’s the NY government collecting the data, and since your state is hemorrhaging money and shedding its top earners like old skin cells, it’s a pretty safe bet it will be used to justify a new tax.

    3. Carl Reiner was an actual New Rochelle resident…
      …not Dick Van Dyke.

      As noted below…

      The Dick Van Dyke show was written by Carl Reiner, he is the person who actually lived in New Rochelle on Bonnie Meadow, the character is based on him and if you look at the pilot you will see that the main character is played by Carl Reiner not Dick Van Dyke. You can watch it here:

      Hulu – The Dick Van Dyke Show: Pilot – Head of the Family – Watch the full episode now. http://bit.ly/34uIY

      BTW, in the pilot program Carl Reiner is being hassled b the New Rochelle PTA because he agreed to write for the PTA newsletter and has been putting it off

  2. The prototype for the BMI
    The prototype for the BMI formula was much more accurate, but it had a square-root in it. If telling Will Smith he’s fat is “the first step”, then buying a $5 calculator is the second.

    Cincinnatus

  3. Rob Petrie
    “…former home of Lou Gehrig, Rob Petrie (aka Carl Reiner)…”

    Uh … no.

    The lead character Rob Petrie was in fact played by the amazing Dick Van Dyke. It was, after all, the “Dick Van Dyke Show.” The character played by Carl Reiner was Alan Brady.

  4. Action I took
    I called all the assembly members that are from the Rochester NY area and suggested this was a grand target for removal from the budget. Most of the people I spoke to giggled when I pointed out that George Clooney was overweight.
    And yes, the writer of the Dick Van Dyke Show was Carl Reiner. And he was writing about a character based on himself.

  5. BMI
    In this, as in every other circumstance, the government’s answer to every situation is to reward failure and punish success.
    If a business is failing give it money. If somebody is financially irresponsible, give them money. If somebody has gorged themselves into obesity give them money.
    If you have a successful career, are financially responsible and physically fit you need to be taxed into submission.

    J. Wagner

  6. Waste of Money
    This sounds like a giant waste of money during times when state programs should be evaluated for bang for the buck. Let’s get rid of this program and 27 more like it to save some money now.

    This type of study has been done and done again, why bother now? Do we need to know that kids are gaining weight again? Pick up any parent magazine for another article about it.

    It amazes me that the state spends money on something like this with so much tax revenue out the window — jobs lost and stores closing.

    Why not just allow the kids to play outside at lunch more often? In Germany the kids go out to lunch regardless of the weather. They wear rain pants and rain hats, warm winter clothing, etc. This may be extreme, but how about a quick brisk 15 minute trek outside on a winter day?

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