America wakes up to obesity

UP TO 29 million Americans awoke yesterday to a rude surprise. Having thought of themselves as comfortably average in size and weight, they suddenly found they were about to be re-designated as "obese". This startling turn in their fortunes resulted from a government proposal to define obesity downwards, writes Mary Dejevsky in Washington.

The official height-weight scale, which produces the "body mass" index that is used to define obesity, is being revised. In future, someone who stands 5 foot 9 inches tall, for instance, would be considered obese if he or she weighed in at 169 pounds or more, 13 pounds less than at present.

The new index would classify 97 million adults, more than half the adult population of the US, as obese. The revision reflects concern in American health circles about the increasing incidence of obesity and associated diseases such as diabetes and cardiac ailments, and is said - by some of the scientists involved - to be intended to give people a "nudge" towards losing weight.