Chapter 6 – Body Composition

Weighing in on the U.S.

Despite the well-known health concerns implicated in overweight and obesity and the availability of multiple methods for assessment and tools to improve body composition, current trends in the United States and around the world are moving in the wrong direction. The unprecedented number of obese Americans has led experts to label it an epidemic, much like they would a disease in a developing country. According to the CDC, the number of American adults (>20 years) that fall into the overweight classification based on BMI are 70.7%. Of those, 37.9% fall within the obese classification. In 1962, the overweight and obesity rates for adults in the U.S. were 32% and 13%, respectively. In other words, overweight trends have more than doubled and obesity rates have almost tripled over the past 50+ years.12

Of more concern are the increasing number of obese children ages 6-11 and adolescents ages 12-19, amounting to 17.4% and 20.6%, respectively.13 While those numbers have stabilized over the past decade, this has led to a dramatic increase in insulin resistance, a form of diabetes formerly known as adult onset diabetes.

With such a diverse population in the U.S. and with an understanding of how BMI is calculated, it is only natural to question the high number of overweight and obese citizens based on BMI alone. However, it is generally believed this is an accurate portrayal of weight status. In a study attempting to compare BMI measurements to actual body fat percentage, it was determined that the total number of obese citizens may be underestimated, and its current prevalence may be worse than is currently being reported.

What Can Be Done?

With the available tools to identify health risks associated with body fat, anyone concerned about their health should gather as much data about body composition and body fat distribution as possible. Compiling multiple measurements and analyzing them provides a better idea of a person’s current health status and will help determine the next course of action. For example, BMI alone can be beneficial. But when combined with waist circumference, a greater understanding of risk can be achieved. Likewise, when combining BMI and waist circumference with body fat percentage, an ideal conclusion of health status can be made.

In a lab activity that your instructor may assign for this chapter, you will be guided through the process of assessing your BMI, waist circumference, waist-to-hip ratio, and body fat percentage.

The next course of action is to set goals and formulate a plan to get to a healthy range of weight and body fat percentage. Where weight loss is needed, the plan should include a balance of calorie restriction and physical activity/exercise. This might also include tracking your current eating and activity habits. More specific information on weight management strategies will be discussed in a later chapter.


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Health and Fitness for Life Copyright © 2019 by Dawn Markell and Diane Peterson is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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