NEW YORK - Last week it was obese football players. Now it’s ... overweight basketball players?
Yep. If you apply a widely used criterion to the published heights and weights of NBA players, nearly half qualify as overweight.
Only four players assessed using the body-mass index (BMI) by The Associated Press made it all the way to the “obese” range, most notably — you guessed it — Miami Heat star Shaquille O’Neal.
But the notion that 200 other NBA players out of 426 are even within a 3-point shot of tubby might make one wonder: Just how good is the BMI at telling if somebody is too fat?
The finding follows a study of football players published last week in the Journal of the American Medical Association. That research concluded that according to BMI standards, more than half of National Football League players are obese, and nearly all are overweight. The study’s validity was questioned by an NFL spokesman.
What’s going on here? Obesity experts say the BMI really is a useful guide to identifying individuals who are too fat for their own good, but it shouldn’t be used by itself.
“The value of the BMI for the (general) population is it’s a good first step, and I underline ’first step,”’ says Dr. George Bray of the Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Baton Rouge, La.
“No one has ever suggested it’s the only criterion to use, because it clearly is not.”
The body-mass index doesn’t directly measure fat. It comes from a formula that considers only weight and height. At 7-foot-1 and 325 pounds, O’Neal had the NBA’s highest BMI, 31.6, in the AP analysis. (He admits to gaining 2 pounds since those numbers were posted.)
That puts him in the “obese” range, which is 30 and above. A BMI indicates normal weight if it falls between 18.5 and 24.9, and overweight if it’s between 25 and 29.9.
“I’ve read that same formula, but as an athlete, I’m classified as phenomenal,” O’Neal told The AP. “You can look it up.”
O’Neal, ranked among the NBA’s 50 greatest players, lost 40 pounds after team management asked him to when he joined the team last summer. He says he now has 13 percent body fat.
Studies show that as a group, people who score “overweight” on the BMI run an elevated risk of developing such problems as diabetes and heart disease, while those in the “obese” category have even higher risks.
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