The changing of the seasons marks my favorite time of year: open enrollment for my company’s heath insurance policies! Um, yay?
As part of enrollment, we are asked to take a personal health assessment that surveys your overall health (diet, exercise, mental health, etc.) and health numbers (height, weight, waist circumference, blood pressure, cholesterol, and glucose). The tool then attempts to quantify your health on a scale from 0 to 100, and offers services to help you with your highest risk factors. Since I have been focusing on my overall health more recently, I was looking forward to finding out my health score this year.
To my surprise, I was rated a 32 out of 100!
I don’t claim to be in perfect health, not even by a long shot, but I’m certainly healthier than I was last year. I dropped 10% of my body weight, I’ve increased my activity level, my mood has skyrocketed, and the blood work from my recent physical came back with spectacular results! My cholesterol, LDL and HDL are well within the “healthy” range, my triglycerides, glucose, and blood pressure are all at optimal levels, and my thyroid function (T3 and T4), comprehensive metabolic panel (including things like sodium, potassium, and calcium), and iron levels all indicate that my body is functioning very well.
In fact, my primary care physician even noted in my records:
Please continue your excellent lifestyle including good nutritional and exercise habits.
So what gives?! The problem is that all of this data that reflected whatever health I would have victoriously claimed was far overshadowed by this obscure, static number that has very little meaning on its own: my weight.
Ok, let’s get this out the way… I’m obese. Actually, according to my calculated Body Mass Index (BMI) based on my weight and height, I’m considered morbidly obese. One BMI calculator even stated:
With a BMI of 40+ you have an extremely high risk of weight-related disease and premature death. Indeed, you may have already been suffering from a weight-related condition. For the sake of your health it is very important to see your doctor and get specialists help for your condition.
(Wow, ok, that sounds horrible, and it’s not fun to admit, but medically, that how I’m classified. And that’s the “YOU’RE DOOMED!!” box that I, and other obese people are put in because of this fairly meaningless measurement.) However, in the context of the results of my last physical exam, something doesn’t add up! How can a person of my weight/BMI look healthy on paper otherwise?
Some researchers say it’s all in the fat distribution. Because of my genetics, my wider hips, thicker thighs, and bigger behind (I get it from my mama!) help to safeguard me from some of the major killers of obese people, like diabetes and heart disease. That’s one theory anyway.
The New York Times posted an article last month describing a study done on the “metabolically healthy obese”. Research suggests that one out of every three obese people may steer clear of heart disease, hypertension, and Type-2 diabetes for at least a decade. More studies need to be done to see how environment, exercise and genetics play into it, but this research could just change how we think about obesity.
Either way, the thing to note here is that weight does NOT define health!
Yes, we can use weight as a measurement that feeds into our overall health, but by itself, it’s not a very effective indicator, or even a necessary measure of health. There are far more impactful aspects to consider, like nutrition, sleep, movement, stress management, etc.
While my company’s health assessment tool does attempt to factor these in, its heavy focus on weight tells me how oversimplified our view of health has become. And this only helps to perpetuate a social stigma around obesity. How have you judged the health of someone you perceive to be obese? What do you assume about their diet, fitness, and god knows what else??
Well, I say, “It’s time to stop obsessing about weight, and judging ourselves and others because of it. It’s time to educate ourselves, and be open to broader definitions of health. It’s time to break up with our scales, and to listen to and trust in our bodies to tell us how we measure up. It’s time, isn’t it?!”