Wednesday, October 17, 2012

"health" information, or lack thereof

I confess....I want to rant a bit about what passes for information on the Internet.  At least I can promise the rant is NOT about politics!

I consider myself a pretty savvy consumer of health-related information.  I've absolutely used Internet sites to further understand health issues, especially given my multitude of medical issues and pharmacy frequent shopper status.  I understand that there are many reputable sites out there and many that simply are not trustworthy, often because they are advertising in disguise.

This can be especially true in the weight-related arena (though there are plenty of offline offenders too).  However, I feel like a site directly affiliated with a hospital should be information-positive.  So today's experience inspired a rant....

I know that there are many indicators of healthy weight and body composition.  I know any set of numbers is more about averages than individuals, hence the muscled athletes labeled obese by the BMI charts.  I've long heard that weight-hip ratio is a really important stat but really never taken out a tape measure simply because I have enough to obsess over.  However, a while back I needed the numbers to order a dress and decided to explore the results a bit.  My quick Google search on waist-hip ratio info gave many results that raised my radar and that I didn't bother clicking on.  I chose one with a direct tie to a hospital, though I frankly forget which one.

I could beat around the bush, but it's easier to just put the numbers out there.  My bust/waist/hip numbers were 34/28/34 (which, in the wonders of women's clothing, meant I needed a size 4, 8 and 0 all at once).  It didn't ask, but I'll be upfront for the sake of context here....I'm around 118-120lbs and 5'4".  According to the waist-hip calculator, I need to lose weight in order to protect my health.

Okay.  I may be body-conscious, but I know that's not true.  That's not to say I'm at my healthiest.  I actually felt my best around the weight I am now, but I had a lot more muscle at the time.  I know the shift in composition is due to my physical issues, not any lack of motivation.  Actually, in a semi-relevant vein, the recent health results made me feel more assured of my instinct that I wasn't in the place for weight training work right now.  It very well might be accurate to say a shift in body composition would be health-positive, but it simply isn't right to say I need to shed pure pounds to be healthy. 

My ratio is partly a factor of what I can and cannot do right now but also, probably more accurately, a simple fact of genetics.  I just am not a curvy gal.  I get that the calculator ultimately looked at ratios, not actual numbers on the tape measure, but one would think a hospital site would either factor in both or make a more clear statement about what the results mean.  I've read enough to know that the genetic tendency to carry weight in certain areas can, regardless of numbers on the scale, predict health outcomes and it is not bad to be aware of that.  Still, it angers me when a site associated with a medical institution can't bother to explain that rather than make a blanket statement...especially when the ratio is partly about using something other than the scale to evaluate health.  I feel the same way when a BMI calculator fails to note that muscle mass can lead to less useful results.  With different information under my belt, it could have sent me into a body image tailspin.   

I'm a savvy health consumer, and treading on the Internet always requires some amount of information awareness (a topic we really should teach more in schools...I know my teachers did discuss source-awareness but it isn't taught enough).  Caveat emptor...or something like it...but it is ridiculous that someone who knows enough to look for a hospital-affiliated site might still come away with poor guidance.

P.S.  I'm going to work hard to not let myself feel somehow bad about the personal stats in this post....the rational side of me knows my rant is no less valid because I can wear a size small. 


Annabelle said...

The internet is so full of conflicting information on all subjects, but I think that's one of the worst -- so many people are interested in it, and so many people are making money off that interest. It's hard to get something really meaningful even from sites you trust.

LisaMM said...

I confess... I would like to talk to you about a book we have coming up on tour at TLC Book Tours, but I can't find an email address for you. Would you please contact me at Thanks!