Saturday, May 07, 2011

Tack to Port(ly)

"I'm pretty much at my target weight.
The thing is, I haven't quite reached my target height."
--Rico Rodriguez as Manny on ABC's "Modern Family" 

Whether it's First Lady Michelle Obama and her campaign for healthier eating, celebrity chef Jamie Oliver and his "Food Revolution," or your doctor, spouse or even in a fit of misplaced candor, yourself, someone has likely told you that you too are not at your target weight. And since the day is over when most who are reading this are likely to grow taller, we've all got work to do.

The reality, though, is that it seems we can't do much about it. That's not to say that we shouldn't eat less and exercise more: any health professional will tell you that these are good things if you want to live longer. It's just that, in spite of it all, the bottom line seems to be that our overall average poundage is up, and we need to come to terms with it. Whether it's genetics, evolution or environment, the result is the same: as a people, we are taller and heavier. It may be an ugly fact, but that doesn't make it any less true.

On a personal level, for all of our dieting and huffing and puffing, most of us find that our bodies have a particular point at which they like to be. You can manage to strip a few pounds off now and then, here and there. But left to their own devices, our bodies seem to eventually come back to their natural level like water. Even that most radical of all approaches, liposuction, has been shown to be a temporary fix. In a study just published in the journal "Obesity," researchers found that, "After 6 weeks, percent body fat decreased by 2.1% in the lipectomy group and by 0.28% in the control." The difference was "smaller at 6 months, and by 1 year was no longer significant." Turns out the body just adds fat cells back elsewhere: "BF was restored and redistributed from the thigh to the abdomen." Turns out you can't fool Mother Nature, even if you lop off her saddlebags.

And so we have to make adjustments.  Manufacturers have been doing this for years. Dress sizes are bigger. Office chairs are stronger. Wheelchairs, ambulances and operating tables have all been beefed up (no pun intended) so that they can support the weight of users. Even the Coast Guard has gotten wise to the situation. Then did some back of the envelope calculations, and came to the realization that we better accept we're heavier if we don't want to drown.

Seems that back in the 1960's, the CG issued regs that stated the maximum number of passengers a ship could safely carry. That load was based on the "Assumed Average Weight per Person" or AAWP, which was 160 pounds. But to be real, "we" haven't seen that weight since "we" all wore bell bottoms. And so effective December 1 of this year, the AAWP will go to 185 pounds. That means that an eight-ton boat will now only be allowed to hold 86 people instead of 100. Before you run out and buy a new weekend skiff, note that the measure only applies to commercial craft and not recreational boaters. So you can still overload your 25-footer with your poker buddies, and hope they're not too drunk to swim to shore when the worse happens.

And what if you board that boat and notice that an awful lot of the passengers are pressing hard on even that threshold? Then you may want to swap your ferry ticket for a one on a plane. That's because the Federal Aviation Administration has an even dimmer, or perhaps more realistic view of the situation. They have issued guidelines that passenger loads on planes should be based on a weight per person of 195 pounds in winter clothing, and 190 pounds in summer clothing. We should all put our tray tables in an upright and locked position, and leave them that way.

It's a trend that sadly shows no signs of abating. Many new buildings have wider doorframes. Buses are now being constructed to not only hold more weight, but discussions are underway to redefine floor space, "to acknowledge the expanding girth of the average passenger." Watch: it's just a a matter of time before those "Maximum Occupancy" signs in auditoriums and ballrooms have to change. After all, even a floor can only take so much.


Marc Wollin of Bedford needs to lose a few pounds, but so does everybody. His column appears regularly in The Record-Review, the Scarsdale Inquirer and online at

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