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This number screams: Diet!

September 22, 2009 |  9:41 am

Confused by the various recommendations from doctors and nutritionists on how much he should weigh, a University of Nevada, Reno, statistician has devised a better way for people to gauge their weight.

The Maximum Weight Limit is a tool to advise people of the number that should set off alarm bells and whistles when they step on the scales. Using calculations, George Fernandez devised the tool so that it closely corresponds to weight recommendations listed on body mass index charts. But it's far easier to calculate and remember compared to BMI.

"When you drive, you have a speed limit. This is similar to that concept," says Fernandez, director of the Center for Research Design and Analysis. "This number tells people, 'This is your maximum weight. You should not going over that weight.' It's a simple concept that should stay in their heads."

The Maximum Weight Limit is calculated on a baseline height and weight. A man who is 5 feet 9 should weigh no more than 175 pounds. A woman who is 5 feet should weigh no more than 125 pounds. To find your Maximum Weight Limit, calculate how much taller or shorter you are in inches. A man should subtract or add 5 pounds for every inch taller or shorter than 5 feet 9. A woman should add or subtract 4.5 pounds for every inch she differs from the baseline height of 5 feet.

The number does not reflect a person's ideal weight, Fernandez says, because people differ in their build and muscle mass. The tool is meant to give people a stop sign. "This is something strict that says, 'This is your limit,' " he says. People who reach their limit should change their lifestyle to eat healthier and exercise more or should seek professional guidance to curtail further weight gain. "It's time to intervene and take steps immediately," he says.

Fernandez came up with the formula after talking to doctors and nutritionists about his own weight. "They all came up with different numbers: a weight range, ideal weight, healthy weight, BMI." After delving into research on weight guidelines, Fernandez says he was struck by how complex the BMI calculation was. BMI was introduced by a Belgian statistician more than 200 years ago, Fernandez says. "It's a fine, valid measurement for identifying or diagnosing overweight and obesity. But for common people, it's hard."

Fernandez is presenting his theory today at a conference of the Nevada Public Health Assn. He plans to begin testing the Maximum Weight Limit to see whether people find it helpful and to identify whether the number could replace BMI in clinical studies on weight.

-- Shari Roan


Photo: Maximum Weight Limit charts for men and women. Credit: George Fernandez, University of Nevada, Reno.

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Comments (15)

Doctors of all people should understand that no two people are alike, even if they are the same height. According to this, I should be freaking about because I am a good ten pounds over my maximum weight (I'm 5'11 so that means I should be no more than 174.5, according to this). YET, YET, I am healthier than most people I know, play soccer once a week, run twice a week, and look good in my size 12 tall jeans (ZOMG, began LA freak out now). In fact, I did weigh less than 175 back in college when I was starving myself and trying to get my body to conform to crazily unrealistic standards of thin and beautiful. These kind of numbers are dangerous and ultimately totally unhelpful. If you are athletic and muscular you will weigh far more than someone of the same height but who is comprised of more fat. I am far healthier now that I ever was at my "maximum" weight.

Wow, that does make it simple. But how do we include muscle mass and bone size into the equation. I thought that every pound of muscle has twice the mass of fat - so if you were heavy and muscular you are healthy - while if you are heavy and fat it is another thing entirely.

This is crap, I am 5'11 and am rock solid when I weigh 240. I realize that I am out of the statistical mainstream but information like this can only serve to penalize people like me to an insurance company's eyes. i can foresee a time that i would get a notice commanding me to get to 185 or be charged more.

The BMI has already been widely discredited as a valid measurement tool since nowhere in it is there any accounting for muscle mass and other fitness health indicators. Finding a different way to get to the same result statistically doesn't alter its essentially bogus premise.

The so-called obesity crisis in this country continues to be wildly overstated in media thanks to the unquestioned, unrealistic "health" measurement of the BMI, and to some degree it is aided and abetted by every single industry that has a stake in getting consumers to believe something is always wrong with us in order to push more products (or deny us eligibility for something. )

We need better, more accurate ideas about what equals health--not just "you're thin enough for your height."

I agree with the first two comments (CB and Lisa Cain). Muscle mass and bone density must be factored in. Like CB, I am a 5'11" female which the chart says should have a minimum weight of 124.5 lbs. Yet one time when I walked across the United States and reached the other side, I weighed my all-time adult low weight of 140 lbs -- at that point I was told by many that I looked like a concentration camp survivor because I was just too thin (despite eating 3,000-5,000 calories daily -- you want to lose weight? WALK long distances). I can't imagine weighing 124.5 lbs, ever.

And yet tall thin models can go that low (and lower) and be fine (more or less, I think we all suspect that eating disorders are sometimes involved in those situations, but perhaps not) -- they have different bone and muscle mass than myself. The bottom line? You need additional columns in your height/weight charts to account for such differences in body types, for both men and women.

Crap. Total crap. There is no place in our world for the athletic build. As an athletic petite, I can tell you there is even less of a place for us. The establishment would have us ALL be boyish waifs. You need to look at ALL the health data to get a true health picture: waist to hip ratio, clothing size, body shape, flexibility and cardio-vascular endurance. I know many people who chain-smoked or starved their way to fit an ideal. They would pass this stupid screaming scale test. Is this what this fool statistician wants us all to aspire (pun intended!) to?

I still don't believe this is very accurate. As many have said here, you have to factor in muscle mass, etc. I wouldn't follow these charts to it's exact numbers, but really just use it as a guide.

What's old is new again. These are just the old life insurance weight tables.

I'm not against them. At 5'2", unless I am a bodybuilder, there is no reason I should weigh more than 134 pounds.

Eat real food, not a steady diet of packaged, processed or Frankenfood, and, along with regular exercise, you will probably not have to worry about weight tables. You're body will get there naturally.

As stated in previous comments above, BMI is woefully inaccurate and useless. Why is anyone putting this in print or online ?

Isn't this basically the old "Dr. Lulu" system from 1918?

"She starts out by helping the reader (who she envisions as a married woman) to determine her ideal weight. Her formula is to multiply the number of inches that your height exceeds 5 feet by 5.5, and then add this to 110. This seems to yield a result close to the body mass index: for instance, a 5-foot 4-inch woman weighing 130 pounds will have a BMI of 22, which is ideal for a normal framed woman, and Dr. Lulu’s system yields an ideal weight of 132 pounds for such a woman."

These charts showing ideal body weight and BMI just aren't realistic in American society. I am a 5'7" male. One time I dieted and exercised myself down to a BMI of 20. According to current BMI charts I was considered normal weight. But everybody thought I looked sick. My parents were worried about my health. I've noticed the only people I've ever seen with BMI in the upper teens and low 20's (considered normal BMI) are chronically ill hospital patients. Who determined BMI >25 is overwight? The insurance industry so they can charge higher premiums?

This BMI thing is totally misleading. I am supposedly 20 pounds "overweight". I however do an hour of serious gym four times a week and watch my diet, and have no health problems. I am very happy the way I am and would NEVER want to look any thinner!

This number screams: Body image disturbance!!
If only life were as simple as a number... I don't believe for a second that weight is based on a 'one size fits all' iniative. It's time that all factors for health were calculated in with that figure - let's include: blood pressure, cholesterol levels, blood sugar and even go so far as bone density mass if one prefers. Health is not calculated on weight alone, though we all know that obesity leads to >BP and diabetes, let's eliminate those risk factors on an individual basis rather than attempting to grossly pigeon hole the entire populous!

Thanks for the update on very outdated material. Read the research on BMI and other issues related to "maximum weight". The scale weights are very unrealistic and cannot apply to everyone. Of course, obesity is a big problem in our country and we need resources to deal with it effectively. I would not include this ploy among them.

Personally, this weight chart works for me. I am 6'2" and weigh 180 lbs. My max weight limit is 200 lbs, which I think is a reasonable limit, and my new goal is to stay under 200lbs throughout my lifetime. I do not look sick, and I am fairly muscular.

This table could help prevent people from becoming overweight/obese, because having a maximum "weight" limit is far more practical than having a max BMI.


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