So, the school district I work for gives a discount on insurance when we go to the health fair, and the folks at my school are organized enough to volunteer to host a site every year. It is a great deal, skip breakfast, pop in before the bell rings, get my finger pricked and find out my numbers.
I had a nice chat with Mohamed, the tech who pricked my finger- I teach English language learners, and he was a former ELL student in Denver- we talked about theory and practice of being bilingual. It was very nice.
Then we go over the numbers on his iPad. All of the sliders were in the green zone, cholesterol, heart rate, blood oxygen, glucose, all the numbers were great. Until we get to BMI.
“So, your BMI is here in the yellow zone, very close to red…” he looked at me cautiously, “it really should be…” At this point he kind of broke off. He didn’t want to say obese, or even overweight.
“The thing is, I don’t really believe in BMI. Before I started working out, I had a lower BMI, but I had no muscles. I’m much stronger now than I was when I weighed less.” I explained reasonably. “I could break you like a twig, little man!” was what I didn’t say. I’ve been working on my self-control. Instead I told him about how I work out, I teach yoga and practice it, I do barre class, I was even testing for my taekwondo black belt that very evening. In other words, “I’m not going on a diet tomorrow.” I told him.
He back-pedaled a little, “well this is more for population data…it doesn’t really matter that much on an individual level….”
Yeah, so the next number we went over was for waist circumference. To earn a point on my scale of heart disease and diabetes risk factors, as a woman my waist should be less than 35 inches. So, let me understand, I, a 5’8″ inch tall woman, should have a waist circumference less than 35 inches. And our band director, who is 6 feet tall, should have a waist circumference of less than 35 inches. and one of our 6th grade English teachers, who is 5’1″ (on a good day) should have a waist circumference of less than 35″ ? How did they come up with that number? Who is “they”? And is this another one of those numbers that works better as population data, rather than a way to live your life?! If that is the case, why include it, or if we are measuring waists, why not measure hips as well, because it is very likely that the ratio of waist to hips is more relevant! Didn’t I read that somewhere?!
I didn’t rant this at poor Mohamed. Self-control, remember? Anyway, it was early, I hadn’t had my coffee.
In doing some research, I found that the source of this magic number 35 is from the Nurses’ Study, which you may have heard of, a major long term study of 45 thousand women over a period of 16 years. There was a correlation between women with waist circumference of less than 35 inches living longer, and women with waist circumferences of larger than 35 inches dropping dead from heart attacks. And cancer. So that is where the magic number comes from, height didn’t enter into it.
Diving into the question of what is the “average American waist size” is a spooky rabbit hole, with most of the initial Google results being exercise and diet sites ready to flog me into going on a diet. The latest study seems to be from 2016, with 5000 subjects willing to have their body measurements taken, and lots of breathless news reports saying that the “study revealed that over the last two decades the average waist size has increased 2.6 inches, from 34.9 inches to 37.5 inches.” The conclusions seem to be that we all need to go on a diet. Bleah.
Maybe I am asking too much from the health fair. They have 15 minutes to get an idea of basic health, and refer people for further care. I’m sure they catch a lot of things that people wouldn’t know about if they didn’t get their finger pricked. I just wonder what happens to this data… in a few years will they come out with a new adjustment to recommendations, based on grumpy teachers who haven’t had their coffee? It’s great to be part of science and progress. I guess.
Hey- if you are in the Northern Colorado Area, remember I offer a very chill Hatha yoga class on Monday nights at 7:30. First time is free. Location is OMS Colorado, the dojang where I do taekwondo.
Aaaand, the day after Christmas, I will have a donation-based class to celebrate Boxing Day (no, not with actual boxing) at 9:00 AM. Out of town relatives? Bring em! It’ll be fun!