Cosmo hooked me on self quizzes at a young age. (Never mind the fact I was reading Cosmo long before I even knew what an “o face” was, much less that I ought to be concerned about it.) Not only did they help me with my math skills – can I subtotal all my “c” scores in my head while deducting points for “a”s? – but I learned valuable things about myself. Things like which character from Friends do I most resemble (I’m a tie between Monica and Chandler, the two most neurotic characters on the show, natch), what my IQ is (thankfully they don’t score for common sense!), my risk for an eating disorder (off the charts but much lower than it used to be), what my Dr. Phil personality is (as opposed to my other personalities Cher and Elmo) and if I have good personal hygiene (Um no I don’t pee in the shower!).
My favorite of all the quizzes are, naturally, the health and fitness assessments. If there is a number out there that could possibly be attached to me in some way, I have found it. I have tested my BMR, RMR, AT, VO2 max, BRCA (gene), BMI, BAI and done the Cooper Test, Army Ranger Test, Presidential Fitness test, Jillian Michael’s test, the P90X benchmark test and those are just the ones I can think of off the top of my head. I’ve got more acronyms than a can of alphabet soup. I’ve never met a test I didn’t want to take immediately. Remember the “Find your happy weight calculator” debate we had on here a couple of years ago? Yeah. Mine was… not so happy.
But is this preoccupation with personal assessments helpful to my mental and physical well-being?
My friend Erika was asking me the other day what I thought about her results from her metabolic testing (i.e. the death by suffocation while running on a treadmill test). She was confused as to how she should change her workouts in regards to her results. I surprised myself by telling her that I didn’t think it mattered. While I have done these (very expensive) tests, I realized as I was talking to her that they changed nothing for me in the long run. Perhaps if I were an elite athlete, or at least vying for a spot in my age group in my next race, then these numbers would be meaningful for my training but honestly the only thing I remember about my test was the abysmally low calorie count it gave me for my resting metabolic rate. The bad news: one Dairy Queen blizzard is double the amount of calories I need for an entire day. The good news: when the apocalypse comes me and my super-efficient metabolism are going to be living large with the roaches.
Metabolic tests are only one of a panoply of assessments out there, however. I was reminded of this when my sister – the beautiful Laura who threw me the world’s best birthday party ever, in case you forgot – sent me a link to the state of Colorado’s “livewell” site. According to a commercial she’d seen on TV, over 50% of Coloradoans are overweight or obese and (cue scary music) most of them didn’t even know it.
When I first looked at the site I couldn’t decide if it was fear-mongering (Imagine all those people walking around doing their thing and being happy and not even knowing they’re one hamburger shy of being a headless fatty in a CNN picture!) or well-intended (Know your health risks? Take our quiz!) The truly scary part is that Colorado is consistently the #1 leanest state in the Union by a long shot. (Tangent: Minneapolis/St. Paul where I live is the #1 fittest state meaning we get the most exercise and yet Colorado is the #1 leanest – more evidence that exercise isn’t as correlated to weight loss as we’ve been told?)
The LiveWell Colorado site, in addition to “obesity in the news” and “obesity blog” sections, has a self-test section named the 360 Gut Check. You can check your BMI (weight to height ratio, widely panned as innacurate), BAI (waist to height ratio, generally considered a good rough estimate) and a behaviors quiz that while insanely obvious (What are these things called veg-e-tables? Can I buy them at IKEA?) gets kudos for even being there and recognizing good health is more about what you do and eat than a certain number.
Then there’s issue of accuracy. My friend Shellie recently wrote me to tell me about her success* with Rachel Cosgrove’s The Female Body Breakthrough and added on this entertaining anecdote:
“www.hallsmd.com says my BMI is XX.X** after their catchy title “A BMI calculator you will like” which doesn’t instill a lot of confidence for accuracy. Nor does the talking moose head on the home page. www.bmicalculatorforfemales.com
also advertises bmi, but calculates body fat instead and came up with XX.XX%, which is pretty darn close to what the personal trainer’s calipers said. But here’s the kicker. According to www.healthstatus.com , my body fat is “XX.XX % (a high number) using the U.S. Navy body fat formula, or XX.XX % (a VERY high number) using the formula developed by the YMCA.” ?????
I played around with the calculator to see how much I would have to weigh to be healthy according to their calculator. According to the YMCA, 75 lbs and a waist size of 17 (that’s my 4-year-old’s waist size) would get me a body fat percentage of 22.25%. I have actually seen an adult my height weigh 75 lbs. It was my grandmother, just before she died of stomach cancer. She looked like a concentration camp victim. She was buried in her wedding dress which had to be stuffed with a pillow because she was so much smaller at age 68 than she was at 20. Not only should the YMCA leave you alone to do your experiments (and be grateful for the free advertising.) They should really get out of the body fat calculation business.”
I went to all the sites Shellie linked (of course I did!) and got hugely varying numbers as well. It was bizarre and a little depressing.
For myself, when it comes to tests of physical feats – like the New President’s Challenge Fitness Test or the Fit Blogger Challenge I did in January (We swept it! Yay team GFE!) – I find them encouraging and entertaining but when the tests measure weight, body fat or other measures of being rather than doing, I don’t find them as useful.
What do you think about the Colorado LiveWell initiative – is there really an epidemic of people “who are overweight/obese and don’t know it”? Is it more helpful or hurtful? What about health and fitness tests in general? Out of curiosity, did you take any of the tests I linked to?? (You took the Friends one, I know it!)
*Shellie lost 18 pounds and 12% body fat!!! I can attest to how good she’s looking as I got to go shopping with her the other day to pick out a new wardrobe!
** I don’t use actual numbers on this site for BMI, weight or body fat % (just the change) as many people find these triggering.