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There's fat, then there's mass

The Baltimore Sun

According to the BMI chart, the Baltimore Ravens should rename themselves the Baltimore Fat Boys.

BMI stands for "body mass index." It's basically a ratio of weight to height that's supposed to tell if you're normal, overweight or an obese fatso. The weights and heights of 12 of my beloved Ravens are on my 2007 Baltimore Ravens calendar, which I proudly display on my bedroom wall. Before I tell you why the BMI chart shows that several Ravens are either fat or overweight, I'll tell you a quick story about why I even bothered to compute a body mass index for them.

I have adult-onset, now insulin-dependent diabetes. A few months ago a friend of mine handed me a copy of The Everything Diabetes Book by Paula Ford-Martin with Dr. Ian Blumer. One of the things I learned is that diabetics should exercise by walking two miles in 30 minutes.

That comes to 4 mph. I did the 4 mph for 30 minutes and it was no fun. But my blood sugars improved. Then I did 4 mph for 60 minutes and the blood sugars were even better.

Walking 4 mph for 60 minutes must do funny things to my mind, because when I came to the section of Ford-Martin's book that showed me how to compute my body mass index, I decided to do the same for my favorite Ravens.

I'm 5 feet, 10 inches tall and weigh a not-so-svelte 191 pounds. My body mass index is 27.4, which puts me in the overweight category.

But going through the calendar, I noticed that Ravens cornerback Chris McAlister stands 6 feet, 1 inch tall. He weighs 206 pounds.

McAlister's body mass index of 27.2 is slightly lower than mine. He's also overweight, according to the BMI chart.

Ditto for Ravens safety Ed Reed, who weighs in at an even 200 and stands 5 feet, 11 inches tall.

Linebackers Ray Lewis and Terrell Suggs are, the BMI chart tells us, obese. So is former Ravens all-everything defensive All Pro Adalius Thomas. Their weights, according to my 2007 Ravens calendar, are 245 for Lewis, 260 for Suggs and 270 for Thomas. Lewis stands 6 feet, 1 inch, Suggs 6 feet, 3 inches and Thomas 6 feet, 2 inches.

Anybody out there willing to walk up to either Lewis, Suggs or Thomas and say "How ya doin', fat boy?" Any takers? Anyone? Anyone?

Thought not.

According to Ford-Martin, "obesity and body fat are measured by body mass index - a number that expresses weight in relationship to height and is a reliable indicator of overall body fat."

Reliable indicator? I'm guessing Messrs. Lewis, McAlister, Reed, Suggs and Thomas would beg to differ.

I once asked a physician how the BMI is computed.

"You take your weight in kilograms and divide it by the square of your height, in meters," she answered.

"You do realize," I told her, "that you just lost 85 to 90 percent of the American public by asking them to do math."

I computed my body mass index and that of each of the players above by grabbing a calculator and an English-to-metric conversion chart. According to the BMI chart, I'd have to be 167 pounds to not be considered overweight. I've already told my doctor how I feel about dropping 24 pounds.

"It ain't happening, doc," I told her. "That would kill me."

In fact, getting down to that weight did almost kill me once, seven years ago, when I came down with congestive heart failure. I had so much fluid built up around my lungs that I wasn't eating. The result was a weight loss that made me look almost skeletal. But my doctor told me not to worry. There has been, it seems, some discussion in the medical field about the BMI, especially as it relates to blacks. There may be factors other than excessive fat, my doctor told me, which may account for blacks having higher-than-normal body mass indexes. One of those factors is bone density, higher on average in blacks. For African-Americans, the BMI chart may not be as accurate.

Maybe it's no coincidence that all the players I've mentioned are black and, according to the BMI chart, either overweight or obese.

The Web site of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also claims that the "BMI provides a reliable indicator of body fatness for most people." I guess the key word in that quote is "most." Rhonda K. Smith, the minority media outreach liaison for the CDC's division of media relations, sent me an e-mail that read, "We are unable to locate someone who can speak to you [about] BMI info specific to African Americans." Smith did, however, send me a link that asked - and answered - that nagging question about the BMI chart's reliability and racial differences.

"The correlation [between the BMI number and body fatness] varies by sex, race and age," the Web page reads.

Deborah Galuska, who's in the division of nutrition/physical activity and obesity at the CDC, added that "there's some research that says different races and ethnicities may have different health factors related to the BMI." Galuska said that a person with a high BMI is "more likely" to be overweight or obese, but the exceptions might be those athletes who have more muscle mass.

I kind of suspect that Lewis, McAlister, Reed, Suggs and Thomas already knew that.


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