So, on the facebook page for BGG2WL, someone brought up the issue of “normal weight obesity.” I know what I immediately assumed it to be, but I was pleasabtly surprised by the information that appeared in the article:

Monika Sumpter did what many women dream of — she set a goal to lose weight and dropped 50 pounds.

Despite losing all of that weight, her ratio of fat to muscle was around 25 percent, 5 percent from where she started and dangerously close to what some researchers say is an unhealthy situation.

“I was just shocked. I thought that it was a lot lower, and I thought that I was healthy,” Sumpter said.

There are others like Sumpter. As many as 30 million Americans who are considered average weight may actually have what scientists call normal weight obesity, according to a recent study by the Mayo Clinic.

The study, which followed 6,171 Americans over nine years, found 20 percent to 30 percent of people considered normal weight still have an alarmingly high percentage of body fat.

Now, when this was brought up on the FB page, it was brushed off as just being a reason for the health industry to call more people “fat.” Considering the number of weight loss drugs vying for FDA approval right now, I don’t doubt that. However, I don’t think this should be brushed off so quickly. I just think there’s more to it than that.

The article goes on:

The Mayo Clinic says that generally, women should have a body fat percentage below 30 percent, while men should have a fat to muscle ratio of less than 20 percent to 25 percent.

Sumpter, a 34-year-old mother of one, is 5 feet 8 inches tall and weighs about 140 pounds, which is in the normal weight range for her height.

However, if 42 of those pounds — or 30 percent of her weight — are made up of fat, Sumpter would actually be considered normal weight obese.

Traditionally, terms like “overweight” and “obese” and “normal” in regards to weight are applied using the body mass index (BMI), and I’ve already shared my thoughts on that. What I also said back then was that I think its useless, especially considering how the body fat percentage is a much more valuable quantifier of one’s health. A body carrying an excess of muscle functions differently than a body carrying fat, and to ignore that very real issue is to ignore the real reason we use the BMI in the first place – a means of gauging ones quality of life:

I, personally, find the body fat percentage to be far more valuable in gauging my physical wellness. The body fat percentage estimates what percentage of your body appears to be purely fat. The “average American female’s” body fat percentage is somewhere around 32%, while the typical athlete is around 22%.

The bf% is a much more valuable number because it acknowledges that those in the overweight category may simply be muscular, and those on the thinner side may still be hiding some fat that needs to be addressed. There is no cheating or hiding behind “unfairness” with the body fat percentage. A caliper or a hydrostatic test is usually used to measure bf% – I use an electrical machine at my gym – but there’s also this quick and dirty calculator that I use to keep track, and it only requires a tape measure. You’ll get two numbers – take an average between the two numbers, and you’ll have a better and much more valuable estimate. If body fat is the issue (not muscle), then getting numbers that address specifically that definitely helps. [source]

I’m not sure how to say what I’m thinking… so I’m just gonna say it. This is why the scale doesn’t matter as much as we like to make it matter. It doesn’t matter how much you weigh; if anything, it matters how much fat you are carrying. Petite women are often pedestaled as being some ideal, but… if one third of her physical makeup is pure fat, what’s ideal about that? Being cute? Not if her health is in question… and let’s be real – the lifestyle that allows one to consistently maintain 30% bodyfat is what the issue is, here, not simply the fat itself.

Speaking of which, the article goes on:

That diagnosis means a higher risk of obesity-related diseases, such diabetes, high cholesterol and heart disease, which is the No. 1 killer of women.

“Women with normal weight obesity, meaning those who have high fat and a normal weight have a two times increased risk for death or dying from heart problems or a stroke,” said Dr. Francisco Lopez Jimenez, who led the Mayo Clinic study.

A diagnosis of being “normal weight obese” means higher risk of obesity-related illnesses because…. of the lifestyle! Not the weight. Not the weight. Not the weight.

Not the weight.

A lifestyle that allows one to maintain 30% (or more) body fat means that the same lifestyle is likely to contain high sugar quantities (thus, the diabetes), too much animal products and by-products (thus, the cholesterol) and too much salt (thus, the heart disease…and many other things, I’m sure.) It is about the living, not the weight.

This is what I presumed “normal weight obese” referred to in the beginning: a person of normal weight carrying the symptoms of a lifestyle usually experienced by someone who is clinically obese. And, in many ways, I believe that’s an appropriate definition.

I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that I was curious, though. I know that there’s a slew of weight loss drugs going up for FDA approval right now, so does that have something to do with the push to have more people clinically defined as obese? I mean, more people defined as obese means more people qualifying for their insurance paying for their weight loss drugs, right?

I’m a cynic (and a businesswoman), so clearly I believe the two are thoroughly linked. I’m also someone who doesn’t want to throw the baby out with the bathwater here, either. I do think there’s a reason to have more people defined as obese, but so long as everyone isn’t being pushed to take medications they’re unsure of and instead opts to use this push to be more cognizant of their health… I can appreciate the awareness. Telling people that are 130lbs at 32%bf that they’re “all good” is just as bizarre as telling someone who’s 190lbs at 20%bf that they “need to lose.”

I also feel like this kind of awareness would make for more tolerance of the term “fat,” because apparently more of us are “fat” than we’d like to admit. I’m just sayin’. It might even stop some of that fat-bashing we see all the time. If more doctors were aware of the issue of body fat percentage over basic scale numbers, then they might be less inclined to harbor a bias against those who are “visually obese.” There might be less fat prejudice.

More from the article:

Sumpter changed her workout routine, adding more weight-bearing exercises to build lean muscle mass instead of only doing calorie-burning cardio.

“Resistance training is the key,” said Sumpter, who is now certified as a personal trainer and works at Equinox in New York. “There are three key components to a healthy lifestyle, which is healthy eating habits, resistance training to build muscle and of course cardio to burn calories and for a healthy heart, but it’s a combination of all three.”

Today she weighs 20 pounds more than her lowest weight, but her body fat percentage is down to 14 percent.

I’ve always said I’m not an advocate for “thin.” That’s not what my weight loss was/is about, and that’s not why my site is here. I’m shooting to compete in a figure competition… clearly, “thin” ain’t my thing. My goal is to figure out how to make “fit” a part of my every day life, and if I can show one more person that “fit” should be the goal, not “thin,” then I feel like this site has done some form of good. It is suspect, to me, that these opinions are gaining attention right around when all these weight loss drugs are vying for approval… but I cannot deny the fact that they have a point. Thin and fit certainly are not the same thing (the same goes for “thin” and “healthy”), and if it takes a term like “normal weight obesity” to call our attention to that fact, then I’m all for it.

What do you think? Let’s hear it!