Monday, July 16, 2012

The Global Fat Scale

Recently, a team of researchers at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine calculated the mean BMI of each country around the world, and produced a table which the BBC has uncharitably dubbed, 'The Global Fat Scale.' The BBC has used the data to create an interactive tool that allows you to compare your BMI to your country's mean BMI and the global mean BMI, along with some other neat facts.

The information is interesting for a number of reasons. First, it's always worth knowing your BMI, even though researchers will sometimes bemoan the limitations of measuring BMI as an indication of fitness. Secondly, it's worth knowing how you measure up to your compatriots and fellow humans, especially in the United States - it's well known that Americans tend to be larger than our cousins in Europe or Asia, but when assessing our fitness as individuals, we judge ourselves against each other, not the people we saw while on vacation in Paris or Rome.

Thirdly, and, I think most importantly, the list of mean BMIs tells us a lot about social forces at play in the world today. For example, among the heavier nations, we see ones we might expect, like the United States and the United Kingdom. We also see Tonga, Micronesia, and Samoa, Pacific island nations whose inhabitants may have genetic predispositions to a high BMI. However, we also see Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain, and other Middle Eastern nations currently shifting rapidly towards Western-type consumer economies, a shift that's bringing in fast food and sedentary lifestyles.

As we scan down the list, we start to see declining BMIs as well as declining GDPs. It's not a straight line, of course, but it's certainly striking that the countries with the lowest BMIs are countries wracked by poverty and conflict, such as Eritrea, DR Congo, Central African Republic, and Somalia. In the US, obesity and it's associated diseases are often considered diseases of poverty, but worldwide, poverty still means starvation.

So check it out, find out where you size up, and you just might learn something in the process. Here's that link again, so you can read about it.