After the chronically ill and sedentary face-planted on a New York sidewalk on Sunday, her campaign finally released a health statement prepared by her hired doctor. Donald Trump did the same. In his report he revealed his height is 6’3″ and his weight is 236 pounds. This gives him a Body Mass Index (BMI) of 29.5. Obese begins at 30. The left immediately pounced claiming that Trump was overweight. Clinton family attack yorkie, David Plouffe even claimed Trump’s weight was a campaign issue:
“Let’s talk about medical records, by the way,” Plouffe told host Chuck Todd on MSNBC’s “MTP Daily.”
“Here’s Trump — you know, ‘Dr. Feel Good’ put out a one-page letter,” he added, referencing a letter from Trump’s longtime doctor that claims Trump would be the healthiest person ever elected president.
“He’s 70. He’s the heaviest president we’ve had, candidate we’ve had, since William Taft. There’s a legitimate issue.”
Just two notes here. Hillary Clinton is 69. Hillary Clinton refused to release her height/weight with her “medical record.” A curious omission. But it would be a safe bet that she is north of a 30 BMI AND Trump was not the one laying face down Sunday.
What is BMI and what does it mean?
BMI is a contrived measurement developed around 1850. It is your weight in kilos divided by the square of your height in meters. BMI, itself, is a very blunt instrument. When conceived it was intended to be used by your physician as one of many factors to be considered. Overweight is not, as we’ve come to view it, a disease. It may be a risk factor for some diseases but even that is not certain. Unfortunately, because it is easy to calculate, it has become a standard way of judging weight and, bizarrely, overall health.
June 4, 1998. The day 29 million Americans became fat.
I use the word “contrived” in conjunction with BMI for two reasons. First and foremost, the numbers are utterly arbitrary. Up until June 4, 1998, 27.5 was considered the top range for “normal” weight. Then a federal panel determined that the new standard for normal ended at a BMI of 25.
Under the new guidelines, an estimated 29 million Americans now considered normal weight will be redefined as overweight and advised to do everything they can to prevent further weight gain. Those who are already experiencing health effects, such as high blood pressure, elevated cholesterol or diabetes, will be encouraged to lose small amounts of weight — about six to 12 pounds — to bring them back to safer weight levels.
Not only is the science directly linking disease to specific weights nebulous in the extreme and not only did the various panels use loaded language like “overweight” and “obese” but the panel in 1998 was rife with conflicts of interest. Of the 19 members of the panel at least eight had a financial stake in increasing the number of overweight and obese Americans because of their work on drugs to combat obesity or their ties to pharmaceutical companies that were trying to produce the drugs. Via The New York Times:
This is not to say they acted corruptly but they did benefit from increasing the market for their potential products by 29 million people, most of whom have health insurance of one type or another that would be willing to buy the drugs based on the assumption that providing them cheap would reduce long term health care costs.
Obese isn’t fat.
One of my favorite reporters to work with is Betsy McKay of the Wall Street Journal. Some years ago she illustrated what “overweight” and “obese” mean. She collected height and weight data on celebrities and athletes and evaluated them using BMI:
As you can see, Trump is exactly as overweight as Harrison Ford, George Clooney, and Bruce Willis. If you want to find the motherlode of obesity go to any pro sports team. Shaquille O’Neal, for instance, is will over 30 in BMI.
And BMI is not constant. It changes with age and what would be disturbing in a person in their 20s might not be all that unusual in a person of 70.
Overweight is not necessarily unhealthy.
As I said before, weight is a risk factor to be considered in the totality of a person’s health. One of the paradoxes of the BMI measurement is that if you are overweight you have a much better chance of surviving an serious illness than a “normal” weight person. For instance:
Stroke patients who are overweight or obese die less often and suffer fewer disabilities than those with an ideal body weight. This is revealed by a new study at the Charité – Universitätsmedizin Berlin, Germany and published in the European Heart Journal…Moreover, it has been shown that besides mortality, also non-fatal outcomes after stroke – such as degree of functional disablement – are as well inversely associated with body weight. According to the current study, underweight individuals have the worst outcomes after stroke.
Overweight ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease) patients have a slower progression of the illness than “normal” weight people.
In fact, a CDC study (which I can no longer find) determined that overweight people have better hospitalization outcomes than normal people.
What does it mean?
Nothing. If you combine a high BMI with a sedentary life style and a family history of cardiovascular disease then there is reason for concern. Even so, the weight remains a risk factor or an aggravating factor and losing the weight doesn’t give you a lot of protection. Trump’s father lived to be 94. Absent him dropping face down on the sidewalke, the fact that he’s on the high end of a very arbitrary measurement means absolutely nothing.