New Year's Resolution to Slim Down?

Updated August 5, 2020 | Infoplease Staff

Some Unappetizing Facts

by Borgna Brunner

Measure your body-mass index and find out more about the new federal obesity guidelines.

View the complete table: "Self-Perception of Being Overweight"

Along with saving money, quitting smoking, and behaving in a more saintly fashion, Americans' favorite New Year's resolution is, of course, losing weight. But if dropping extra pounds was also on your New Year's resolutions list last year, you may now doubly regret having blown it — in the last year slimming down has grown tougher.

In June 1998, the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) released the first federal guidelines on overweight and obesity in adults. In the past, various government agencies offered a variety of differing methods for measuring healthy and unhealthy weight, but the NHLBI formula represents the government's first set of standardized guidelines.

The new rules, more stringent than those of the past, bring U.S. criteria for measuring overweight and obesity in accordance with the World Health Organization's recommendations, as well those of numerous other countries. To think that a few decades ago we were able to comfort ourselves with those old-fashioned, amply forgiving actuary weight tables — and now we're expected to measure up to the French!

The new rules define obesity as having a body-mass index of 30 or greater and overweight as having BMI levels between 25 and 30. BMI is determined by plotting height against weight. Until now, U.S. agencies have used a variety of different BMI thresholds to determine overweight, ranging from 25 to 28. In addition to the body-mass index (BMI), the new guidelines rely on two other factors — waist circumference, and a person's risk factors for diseases and conditions associated with obesity. This ensures that a particularly muscular man with a trim waistline but a BMI above 25 (muscle weighs more than fat) isn't considered overweight.

While you decide among the latest faux Fen-Phen diets and the other imaginative offerings of the $33 billion diet industry, here are a few facts to digest.

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