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GitM 7: Jolly Green Giant

September 26, 2011
by

Muddy Monday is a feature in which we “get in the mud” with fat haters and anti-obesity pedagogues by accepting their arguments (even the ones we disagree with) and still find holes in their logic.

Last night my family and I went to Wal-Mart for groceries and to pick out a prize for our daughter Lottie (2.5), who has successfully slept through the night without her binky.

While I was there, I was aghast at the unsightly towers of flesh that lumber through the aisles, obstructing my vision and inducing a general aesthetic displeasure with the human mountains that have overtaken our society.

No, I’m not talking about the fatties. Today, I am railing against that scourge of a healthy society: tall people.

Fretting over fat people is so 2010.

You see, whenever I engage in discussions about the Fat Panic, I attempt to reassure people that, according to the same team of researchers that spotted the increase in obesity rates in the 1990s, obesity rates have leveled off for women and children in 1999 and for men in 2003.

That’s over a decade without significant changes in our obesity rates, and yet we’re still inundated with dire predictions of an Obesunami® that will destroy our healthcare system and render us all impotent, flatulent and ignorant.

Relying on the flawed self-reported weights in telephone surveys, media outlets continue to report ever-increasing rates of obesity despite the methodologically superior measured heights and weights of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) study which reported the leveling rates.

And, as we all know, the public won’t just accept that the media maybe, possibly, doesn’t know what the fuck they’re talking about. So, when presented with evidence to the contrary, an ill-informed media consumer will often fall back onto my favorite obesity panic rationalization of all time: “I don’t need no dag-blamed science to tell me that we’re getting fatter. All you have to do is go to the Wal-Mart to see how fat people are getting!”

Aaaaaaaaaaaah… Wal-Mart science. My favorite!

Those familiar with past Muddy Mondays will recall that we concede a lot to the fat haters, therefore playing on their “turf,” so to speak. For example, today, I’m going to completely ignore the socio-economic factors that affect who shops at Wal-Mart.

Yes, you can go to Wal-Mart and gawk at the fatties, but in the back of your mind should be a nagging reminder that the average household income of Wal-Mart shoppers is between $35,000 and $40,000 per year, versus the relatively high end Target shoppers who earn between $55,000 and $60,000 per year. Keeping in mind the strong correlation between poverty and obesity, as well as the role that the social determinants of health play in our daily health and welfare choices.

Instead, today, we’re not going to focus on all the great science-y things that would intellectually shred this kind of lazy, armchair epidemiology.

No, what these people want to say is that “I can see the obesity epidemic with my own eyes, and I don’t need to research to tell me it hasn’t gotten worse.”

Fair enough.

But as these same people are fans of suggesting, there’s a difference between “kinda fat” and “really fat.” And most people who fret about the state of our national waistline are talking about the really fat people. Being just “sorta fat” doesn’t bother them. Their moral outrage is reserved for the worst of the worst, the fattest fatties to ever fat down the fatwalk.

Now, there’s the definition of obese, which is a BMI over 30, but most people understand that BMI is flawed. So, when a woman like this…

… is labeled obese, they tend to dismiss them and say, “I mean really obese” (although at 5’6″, 210 pounds and a BMI of 33.9, this woman from Kate Harding’s BMI Illustrated Project is really obese).

“We mean the morbidly obese,” they clarify. Okay, how about these two women…

The top woman has a BMI of 41, while the bottom woman has a BMI of 40.5, making them ideal baselines for morbid obesity. (Incidentally, if you’re wondering about the numbers on the photos, they come from this survey we created to see how people define fatness based on body type. You can take the survey here and compare your results with the general FFFs population here).

And for a male baseline, you can use me: 5’7″, 260 pounds, BMI 40.7.

So, my first question for people who believe obesity rates are rising exponentially (and long-time readers, no shouting out the answer) is what percentage of the population is fatter the two women above or myself?

The answer may surprise you: 5.7%.

Just 5’7% of the population is morbidly obese, and that rate has remained stable for over a decade for women and nearly nine years for men.

But don’t trust me, trust your eyes. Clearly there are more enormous fatties out there than the 1 in 20 I claim, right? All you have to do is walk through Wal-Mart.

So, my follow-up question for these astute anthropometric Einsteins is this: have you noticed the epidemic of tall guys lately? It’s sickening isn’t it?

And I’m not just talking about the “kinda tall” guys, like Barack Obama, who is 6’1″. I mean, really tall guys like Ron Perlman, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jim Carrey, Will Smith, John Travolta, Saddam Hussein, and Mitt Romney. For visual perspective, here are some photos of our ol’ populist pal Mitt, grinnin’ and grabbin’ with some average Americans.




Romney and the rest are all members of the exclusive 6’2″ club.

How exclusive?

According to the CDC’s anthropometric data from NHANES III (PDF), just 5% of men are 6’2″ and taller. Of course, in Hollywood it’s easy to find men who are 6’2″ and taller. At the other end of the spectrum, just 5% of men are 5’4.4″ and shorter, which would include Seth Green, Michael J. Fox, Rick Moranis, Davy Jones, Truman Capote, Pablo Picasso, and Pope Benedict XVI.

Finally, the average height for a man (50th percentile) is 5’9.5″, and includes Jack Nicholson, Freddie Mercury, Mel Gibson, Robert de Niro and Paul Newman.

To help put this into even better perspective, I have created a visual measurement using representatives from each cohort to help. Turns out, you can find a photo of John Travolta with pretty much anyone famous, as I discovered with this photo of Travolta and Seth Green.


Side-by-side, Travolta has nearly an entire head on Green. But to put this in perspective, I found a photo of Travolta and Robert DeNiro…

… which was slightly skewed, so I used the chair behind DeNiro to rotate to a more accurate angle. Merging the two images, I created a lineup of the Green/DeNiro/Travolta composite.

I’ve also found an interesting composite from history that compares nicely to the GDT composite:

Yes, it’s the Ahmadinejad/Einstein/Hussein cohort.

And for a final visual comparison that my fellow (lapsed) Catholics will appreciate, the difference between the shortest men and the tallest men can be illustrated best by comparing Pope Benedict XVI both with and without his majestic mitre.

And for yet another perspective, ladies in the 5% club would have to be either have to be 4’11.3″ or shorter (such as Lil Kim and Tammy Faye Messner) or else 5’8″ or taller (such as Angelina Jolie or Joanna Lumley). The average height for women is 5’3.8″ (such as Jodie Foster). But since women are more likely to wear height-enhancing shoes, making a similar composite is difficult.

Have you noticed men or women at or beyond these heights? Have you suddenly been wracked with concern over the implications of an entire generation of excessively tall (or short) adults? No? Didn’t think so.

The reason you haven’t noticed is because the media has not been reminding you every ever-loving day that tall people are getting taller, or placed a financial premium on those with abnormal heights so that you are inclined to look upon them with a Recession-induced disgust.

In other words, it’s all in your head.

Yes, there was an increase in obesity rates throughout the 80s and 90s, but they have ended, as far as we can tell. Any further increases are the result of a hyper-vigilant media raising your awareness, not any quantifiable increase in actual human weight in the past decade.

And the scrutiny fat people face has intensified during the same decade in which obesity rates have remained stagnant, creating an illusion of ongoing growth that fuels the kind of speculation that is nearly impossible to refute with credible scientific research.

In times like these, it is absolutely important to recognize that in an environment of panic and fear, we cannot simply trust our eyes.

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18 Comments leave one →
  1. vesta44 permalink
    September 26, 2011 3:56 pm

    It’s funny you should bring up the height thing. I was born in 1953, and I’m 5′ 8″. My mother was born in 1934 and she was 5′ 7″, her mother was born sometime around 1905 or so, and she was 5′ 6″. My father’s mother was 5′ 8″, as was her sister, and both of them were born around 1905 to 1908 or so. All of the men in my family (both sides) range anywhere from 5′ 10″ to 6′ 6″, with years of birth being from around 1900 or so to 1956 (other than my son and my niece and nephew who were born in 1974, 1975, and 1984, and all of them are anywhere from 5′ 10″ to 6′ 2″). So height has been increasing for men and women for at least the last 100 years or so, but no one has said anything about that (and with an increase in height, there comes an increase in weight – taller people weigh more than shorter people – DUH). So everyone in my family is of above-average height, and that seems to be continuing with my grandchildren (my grandson is 15 and 6′ 1″, my granddaughter is 13 and 5′ 6″ already).

    • Jenny Jenny permalink
      September 27, 2011 1:52 am

      You make a great point. Since increased height is genetic generation to generation so is increased weight. Great point!

    • September 27, 2011 11:43 am

      Geez, vesta, at this rate your family is going to become a race of giants to crush us all! I think what we need is a Giant Human Awareness Month so we don’t get stepped on! 🙂

      Peace,
      Shannon

  2. Mulberry permalink
    September 26, 2011 4:43 pm

    Ah, but haters will retort that you can’t help your height, but you can change your weight. How would you answer that?

    By the way, Shannon, just a personal opinion, but I really wish you’d use your own face as your avatar instead of whoever-it-is that you do use. You have a great warmth and sparkle that really comes across in photos.

    • Karen permalink
      September 27, 2011 7:05 am

      I second that!

    • Fab@54 permalink
      September 27, 2011 7:42 am

      I totally agree!! There’s something about your avatar Shannon, that just doesn’t do it for me, either. But your REAL face? Cute as can be! (are you blushing now?) 😉

      • September 27, 2011 11:48 am

        Maybe not blushing, but squirming uncomfortably. I don’t do compliments well, but I have learned to say, Thank you, and smile. 🙂

        Peace,
        Shannon

    • September 27, 2011 11:47 am

      I wouldn’t answer that at all, unless they’d want to get into an in-depth conversation about weight and health, and that’s getting into a totally different area. This is just to draw attention to the fact that perception is not reality. Just because you notice more fatties doesn’t mean there are more fatties, and since there are about the same amount of really tall or really short men or women, you could compare their awareness of the rates of 5’8″ women to their awareness of morbidly obese men. Or whatever you want to compare.

      And thanks, Mulberry, but my warmth and sparkly wouldn’t help my badass persona. 😉 Besides, my avatar is Dr. Ted Nelson, who coined the expletive ATCHKA! when he burned his hand on a scalding pot of soup. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

      Peace,
      Shannon

  3. September 26, 2011 8:28 pm

    I’m average height for a woman? Seriously? Wow. I had no idea. Great post, Shannon!

    • September 27, 2011 11:48 am

      Average height for an above average woman. 🙂

      Thanks Jen!

      Peace,
      Shannon

  4. Fab@54 permalink
    September 27, 2011 7:54 am

    And those tall people really can be bothersome when they overtake the spaces of “average” folks like me (5’3″).
    In theaters it’s a pain to have them seated in the two rows in front of your seat. Especially if they have big hair (or big ears)!
    On airplanes and in theaters, they are always stretching out their super- long legs and shoving them under OUR seats, and or kicking the backs of OUR chairs because they spill out of their allotted space. (so rude)
    I can never see the stage when all those damn tall people stand up in concerts to hoot n holler (or dance). All I get to see for MY $125 is a row of backs and asses.
    Yeah, something really should be done about the epidemic of tall folks taking over us poor average-height folks.
    And even though “they can’t HELP being tall”, well, they could at least move to the back of the concert hall or theater and PAY for extra leg room (and head room) on airplanes, subways, and trains, etc. right?

    • September 27, 2011 11:50 am

      And don’t forget about how we’re always tripping over the Seth Green’s over the world. Silly little people! If only their mothers had fed them properly, they might not be undersized.

      Of all the epidemics out there, though, the one that worries me the most is still the asshole epidemic.

      Peace,
      Shannon

      • Fab@54 permalink
        September 27, 2011 7:22 pm

        Ahhh the little folk…. a whole ‘nother story there…. 😉

  5. September 28, 2011 1:20 pm

    Yes, curse that tallness thing! It’s embarrassing enough that I am five foot seven-ish as a woman, but I have this embarrassingly tall six foot one inch son. The horror! Never mind that he’s planning to become a doctor, nothing those Talls can do will ever redeem them from their freakish Tallness! 😉
    I’m so embarrassed by the fact that the love of my life (RIP, sadly) was (gasp) six foot six! Oh, the shame of it!
    I love sarcasm. Sometimes it really gets me through the day.

  6. Elizabeth permalink
    October 4, 2011 11:13 pm

    As a 6’3″ single girl, I find the stats about the small numbers of really tall men quite depressing! However, love the post as always 🙂

    • October 5, 2011 9:30 am

      Don’t be depressed, Elizabeth, you can find love at any size. But, just out of curiousity, as someone who is sort of “on the lookout” for taller men, do you notice tall guys everywhere, like people claim they see fatties everywhere?

      Peace,
      Shannon

  7. DeAun permalink
    October 24, 2011 2:06 am

    I’m a statistical giant!! BMI over 40 and a height of 5’11” as a woman!

    Strangely, at least for tonight, this knowledge makes me feel very powerful and I’d like to go stomping through downtown, maybe pull up a building or two…. 🙂

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