Things That Make You Go Hmmm . . . .

The March Atlantic Monthly has an interesting blurb about increasing wage discrimination against overweight white women, based on a report from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Even more interesting than the finding of wage discrimination was the finding that the rate of being overweight and obese in white females has increased from 12.6% in 1981 to 50.4% in 2000. Perhaps I’ve been living under a rock, but this seems to me a shocking jump, and during a period when my impression was that the U.S. was paying increasing attention to healthy diets and exercise. It’s not entirely clear where the primary source found the data on overweight and obese women; the weight gain findings are mentioned only in the context of a dataset that examines the weight of a cohort of women over time through annual and then biennial self-reporting interviews. I can’t imagine the report based the weight-gain statistics on this crowd, given that these women are likely to gain weight as they get older and therefore don’t strike me as a reliable subset from which to extrapolate to the population as a whole. Any thoughts from statisticians and others on the source and reliability of these data?

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1 Response

  1. Katie says:

    At least part of the reason is that the the definition of “overweight” has changed during that period (here’s one article I found through cursory googling, but I seem to remember that in the late ’80s the definition of “overweight” was changed from a BMI of 27 to a BMI of 25.

    I don’t have it handy, so I can’t check, but I seem to recall that this book by a NYT science writer (take of that what you will in terms of reliability) said the average weight gain has been something on the order of around 11 lbs per person, but that it’s disproportionately much higher among people who were already at the high end of the weight range, for whatever reason. You might also see cumulative societal weight gain as medications like anti-depressants, which also cause weight gain as a side effect, become more widespread. And if people really are exercising more, muscle weighs more than fat, so an increase in BMI doesn’t necessarily correlate to increase in body fat.

    Those are just some thoughts from an interested layperson.