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Who's fat? New definition adopted

person June 17, 1998
Web posted at: 2:10 p.m. EDT (1810 GMT)

In this story:

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Millions of Americans became "fat" Wednesday -- even if they didn't gain a pound -- as the federal government adopted a controversial method for determining who is considered overweight.

The strict guidelines, revealed earlier this month and formally approved by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), measure a person's Body Mass Index. To calculate yours, read on.

A L S O :

Body Mass Formula Equation

Calculate your BMI:
Your Weight:
Your BMI:

Your BMI should fall within the healthy range of 19 to 25.

If you're at the upper end of this range or score more than 25, consider losing enough weight to lower your BMI at least one or two numbers. A BMI of more than 27 is considered overweight.

Mayo Clinic

Using the old criteria, the average woman -- with a height of 5 feet, 4 inches (1.6 meters) and weighing 155 pounds (70 kilograms) -- was considered overweight.

Under the new definition, that weight drops to 145 pounds (66 kg). A person at the same height who weighs 175 pounds (79 kg) would be considered obese.

CNN's Anne McDermott explains how the new guidelines affect you
icon 2 min. VXtreme video

Someone who is 5 feet, 10 inches (1.8 meters) tall and weighs 185 pounds (83 kg) was considered overweight under the old guidelines. Now, for the same height, 175 pounds (79 kg) is overweight and 209 pounds (94 kg) is obese.

Or, put another way, 25 million Americans who weren't fat before, are now. Even under the previous standards, more than half of all adult Americans are overweight.

The guidelines are based on Body Mass Index (BMI), a height-to-weight formula that ignores whether the weight is from fat or muscle. It also ignores whether someone has a large or small frame. The weights are the same for men and women.

Dr. Xavier Pi-Sunyer from the National Institutes of Health comments on the new weight guidelines
What factors are figured into the obesity equation
(264 K / 22 sec. audio)

The ramifications of the new weight guidelines "An education campaign ..."
(315 K / 28 sec. audio)

Under the BMI formula, a reading of 26 or higher is overweight.

Is the change necessary?

The NIH says the changes are necessary because of studies linking extra weight to health problems.

The American Heart Association recently added obesity to its list of major risk factors for heart disease and heart attack, along with smoking, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and a sedentary lifestyle.

Some health experts reject the new guidelines, claiming people who aren't fat are now considered overweight. For example, under the new definitions, many professional athletes would be considered too heavy.

Critics also worry that these lower weights will persuade doctors to start prescribing diet drugs for people who don't need them. Some diet drugs carry health risks, such as an increase in blood pressure.

Correspondents Elizabeth Cohen and Anne McDermott contributed to this report.

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