Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Women should be bigger than men

As it is my firm conviction that all problems in life emanate from mismanagement of one's health that is why I start my clients on a food consumption modification and health plan before anything else. As my client base expands, particularly with women seeking to tackle a weight issue, I have deduced that women should be bigger than men.

There is no magical weight for optimum health. I believe that the BMI calculation method is flawed and therefore l can't lend absolute credibility to that measure. There is, however, healthy set points for weight -- the natural weight when food is consumed in a proper manner and a reasonable level of activity is maintained. The weight that is natural for women and men differ in that, generally, women should be bigger than men. I am not saying that Amazonian women towering over their male counterparts is the desired norm. When adjusted for height though, women should be heavier than men. As with anything associated with health this is merely a guideline. Individual circumstances will justify differences.

Traditionally men have occupied the labour intensive jobs that required additional strength and bulk. Beginning with the industrial revolution an ongoing effort has been made to remodel our workplaces, and homes, into push-button labour fields. With a later concurrent shift in traditional gender roles women and men are now equally performing tasks requiring little more than pushing a button. The physical requirements demanded by the musculoskeletal system of both genders has degenerated during this transition. Yet caloric consumption has, after a period of decline through the 1960's now returned to or exceeded pre-industrial revolution times.

The body of a woman requires more fat for the maintenance of proper hormonal function and preparation for child carrying. This becomes apparent in women who engage in crash diets or the elite athletes who have little body fat. Both groups of women commonly experience Amenorrhea -- a condition in which her menstruation becomes erratic then ceases for at least three months. As opposed to a number that is a more clear indication that a woman's weight has become deficient. On the opposite end there is an easy determinant of excess. It is the hip to waist ratio.

As I look around I see an appalling sense of complacency about nutrition and well-being which has led to a burgeoning of the waistline of most American's. Pound for pound, carrying excess fat around the waist is a greater danger to health than the subcutaneous deposits spread throughout the body. The waistline deposits of visceral fat -- stores behind muscles and between organs -- are more likely to contribute to the development of heart disease, hypertension, diabetes and possibly breast cancer.

In my belief the waist-to-hip ratio for women should be slightly above .70:1; for men, about .85:1. That is, a woman with 36" hips should have no larger than a 25-26" waist while a man with 32" hips should have no larger than a 27.5" waist. These are guidelines but in general define what a healthy individual will have.

As for the BMI I believe it should only be used for people who fall within the range of the most common body types. Near the average height, near the average structure and not a body builder adorned with oversized muscles.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offers four BMI categories: underweight, normal, overweight and obese. The goal is to fall within the normal category. Underweight is considered having a BMI below 18.5. A normal BMI falls between 18.5 and 24.9 on the BMI scale. The overweight category starts at 25 and goes up to 29.9 on the BMI scale. People who have a higher BMI -- 30 or over -- are considered to fall within the obese category.

It is my proposition however that there should be a distinction between male and female with males being slightly leaner and females having more body fat.

In order to estimate BMI, convert your weight from pounds to kilograms, and height from inches to meters squared. Convert weight from pounds into kilograms by dividing it by 2.2. Convert height from inches to meters by multiplying it by .0254. To get BMI, divide weight in kilograms by height in meters squared.

For myself I get the following calculation:
127 pounds equals 57.7 kilograms; my 5' 10" height equals 1.78 meters which when squared is 3.16 meters. 57.7 divided by 3.16 equals 18.25. This measure indicates that I am underweight. Observing the layer of fat that is still wrapped around my midsection and my somewhat muscular build from all of the running, cycling and heavy yard work that I do demonstrates the flaw in the BMI calculation even for someone nearly spot-on average as my height and build.

It is not my intention to convey that women should be getting any larger. There are already far too many oversized women out there. The CDC reports that in 2005-2008, overall, 29.0% of women who live in households with income at or above 350% of the poverty level are obese and 42.0% of those with income below 130% of the poverty level are obese. Obesity is correlated to income and similar results are demonstrated among formalized education. Among women, the prevalence of obesity was 23.4% in college graduates and 42.1% in those with less than a high school diploma.

There is clearly a contrary indicator here that supports my contention which I wrote about in Fighting Hunger -- A Sensible Cure. There I argue that the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program [SNAP] needs to be overhauled at a minimum. In reality, as supported by the CDC data, the program should be eliminated. Overweight people are not going without food -- they have food to an excess. That aside, women are too large in our society.

It seems that there has been a significant overshot in the opposite direction from the expectations of 50 years ago that women were to be stick-figure adornments to pleasure the eyes of the men. Now women have no shame about publicly displaying their grotesquely deformed bodies. There should be a rational compromise. My waist-to-hip ratio recommendations are about the same for women but more stringent for men than what is typically espoused by the medical community.

As in other fields that have been male dominated, such as psychiatry which I will be writing about soon, there appears to be a double standard that is wrong. Though not completely absolving men of their responsibility to maintain a reasonable size and adequate fitness the pressure from the medical and advertising/marketing community puts a greater emphasis on feminine responsibility to conform to body image expectations.

Men are not doing much better. The CDC reports that they have a prevalence of obesity when income is at or above 350% of the poverty level of 32.9%. For those with income below 130% of the poverty level the rate is 29.2%. Among men with a college degree, the prevalence of obesity was 27.4%. Among those with less than a high school diploma, the prevalence was 32.1%. Although there was some correlation between income and formalized education relative to rates of obesity in men it was not nearly as disparate as it was in women and more interesting was the indication of an inverse relationship when income is considered. That is as income increased for men so did their gut while for women as income declined their gut increased.

There should be no difference in societal expectations for the fitness and figure of a woman than there should be for a man. In my years of coaching I have heard it from both sides and there is clearly more emphasis placed upon women and their physical appearance than there is for men. This leads to marital discord and also significant and damaging psychological issues for women. While I in no way intend to offer a free pass to women I do believe it is paramount that society owe up to the shared obligation that men have to also maintain a proper and acceptable level of fitness and physical appearance.

Women need not concern themselves with trying to maintain an image consistent with the beach bunnies of Pajama Party but should instead strive for what I believe is a reasonable hip-to-waist ratio and overall well-being. This should start with eating only food and increasing exercise. The goal should be more intrinsic -- feeling physically fit and emotionally secure.

If you need assistance with a weight or fitness issue, or any lifestyle change, then please visit my website and contact my scheduler to make an appointment to meet with me.

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©2012 Stuart Showalter, LLC. Permission is granted to all non-commercial entities to reproduce this article in it's entirety with credit given.

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