Health by the Numbers

You’ve probably heard by now that weight is an important factor in overall health. For the first time in the history of multi-celled animals on this planet, too much weight actually kills a lot of folks. Until a century ago, fat saved a lot more lives than it took.

Here are some weight-related measures of a person’s health:

  • weight
  • Body Mass Index (BMI)
  • waist-to-height ratio
  • serum aminotransferase

Amino-what-what-what? I’ll get to that shortly. Let’s look at the others, first.

Weight as a simple number of pounds does a poor job indicating health. One human may weigh 200 pounds and be far healthier than another person of the same weight. BMI is a fairly complex formula that tries to create a reasonable scale relating weight to height. My BMI is currently a bit on the high side, but not by much.

The problem is, height isn’t the only variable when it comes to figuring out how heavy is too heavy. BMI assumes a certain shape of person, and I suspect it’s based on a weight distribution more typical of females. Skinny-leg men with big bellies can fool themselves with BMI because the weight is not distributed evenly over their bodies. It’s concentrated in the gut, which is far more harmful than fat on the thighs.

So for me, a more meaningful measure is the ratio of my height to my circumference. It’s a simple measure, and in my case, the news there isn’t so good.

My advice to people assessing their weight as a component of their overall health: Choose the system that gives you the worst news. That’s probably the number you need to address.

Much different is the last measure in the list above, and it’s more important to me personally than it’s likely to be for you. The amount of aspartate aminotransferase and alanine aminotransferase in one’s blood is related to fat on the liver. That is, of the sixty extra pounds I was carrying last March, it was the few ounces of that fat in my liver that were harming me the most. I could lose only those little fat bubbles and be far healthier, even at the same weight.

So last March my numbers were:

  • Weight: 198 lbs. (or thereabouts – didn’t have the good scale yet)
  • BMI: 30 (borderline obese; normal is < 25)
  • Waist-to-height: about 0.68 (didn’t measure at the start, but this is very not good)
  • aspartate aminotransferase: 290 (normal is < 40) (!)

So if raw weight is such a flimsy indicator of health, why do we hear so much about weight everywhere we turn? The answer: It’s really easy to measure. So I use the least meaningful measure of health to set my goals. A pound a week. (Pound 172 took substantially longer. I hated that pound. Week after week I cursed that damn pound.)

Today my numbers are:

  • Weight: 170 lbs.
  • BMI: 25.8 – getting close!
  • Waist-to-height: 0.62 – ok, not so close. Can’t hide from this one.
  • aspartate aminotransferase: normal!

You see that last one? That, my friends, is weight-loss success. I still have some work to do, but dang if that’s not validation. An important part of my 50th birthday present to myself.

Also, when I hug my sweetie, I feel closer to her. Probably because I am closer to her. And her arms go all the way around me, with extra for squeezin’.


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