When an “A” is Good Enough

BMI is crap when it comes to assessing an individuals health status. Body fat percentage is a much more reliable and functional metric, but since BMI is cheap and easy it gets used instead.

I was disappointed during my last annual physical (work mandated) that my doctor brought up that my BMI was 28 (I’m just a smidge over 6 ft.) and above the desired range. I asked her to check my waist measurement, which the MA had taken right after weighing me (fully clothed and with shoes on). 31 inches at the abdomen. I most closely resemble the 15% body fat images in the charts below, but with more developed chest, shoulders and arm musculature. “Weight” is not an issue for me, but most physicians just run through a script during these types of appointments, which makes me glad I’m on the clock and don’t have a co-pay for these encounters.

Looking at these two charts describing make and female body fat percentages, you see that they basically agree on the male side up to about 15% body fat. There is a pretty significant divergence though at @ 20%. The first chart displays a pretty sloppy guy at 20/22% who looks like crap compared to preceding 14/15% pic, while the second chart @ 20% shows not much difference from the 15% pic preceding it.

It’s pretty much the same for women, where the first 3-4 groups are comparable, but then we see a divergence at 25%.  In the first chart the image at 25% is definitely inferior to the second chart 25% image which depicts a flat stomach and smooth, firm curves.

body fat percentage for men and women

body fat percentage for men and women

body-fat-percentage-men-women

The second chart 25% image is what I would call “not-so- bad-dad bod”. 30% is the more typical shape for the dads I coach football with. Most of the moms at my kids’ school resemble the 35% image from the same chart, but with more belly and less hour-glass-ish lines.

According to this study though, men on average are at 28% and women are at around 40% body fat.

Not many Americans have their body fat measured by expensive whole-body X-rays, so actual data from this source is sparse. However, Chaoyang Li and colleagues writing in the “American Journal of Clinical Nutrition,” established a baseline for the average body fat of the American population through this method. The authors performed their analysis on a representative sample of adults between 1999 and 2004. They found that body fat in men averaged 28.1, while in women it averaged 40.0. Unfortunately, both the male and female averages exceed the maximum percentage for good health.

I’ve heard that a 90% grade is now considered an “A” in the public school system in my area. If we just look at the second chart, I’m very sure that 90+% of women would consider any of the men in the 10-20% groups to be adequately physically attractive. Again just looking at the second chart, I think 90+% of men would find women in the 15-30% groups attractive enough. I’m fairly confident that fewer than 1 in 5 men would find the 10% BF woman attractive for an LTR, and it be less than 1 in 10. Generally, men don’t like women who look like men.

Its really sad that neither the average man at 28% (quite sloppy) nor the average woman at 40% (gross) can this relatively easy A.

(I do not vouch for the complete accuracy of either of these charts. I’m just using them as a good visual reference.)

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