The Skinny on Weight Loss: How Much is too Much?

Every January, millions of Americans vow to lose weight. This year, 40% of Americans have made such a New Year’s resolution. For many, the motivation is to “get fit” or “be healthy”. Others want the figures of celebrities like Taylor Swift or Jennifer Lawrence. But how thin is too thin?

According to the Center for Disease Control, the Body Mass Index (BMI) is the standard tool for classifying weight. It equates to the body mass divided by the square of the body height. A BMI under 18.5 is considered “underweight”, while a BMI of 25+ is “overweight”. Thus, a healthy 5’9” person would weigh between 125 and168 pounds.

In recent years, however, popular culture has severely distorted this concept of healthy weight. Magazines and runways are among the worst culprits, often glamorizing skeletal models. In fact, an editorial/fashion model today ranges from 5’6” and 90 pounds to 5’11” and120 pounds. With these dimensions, models weigh ~23% less than the average US woman. Moreover, “most runway models meet the Body Mass Index criteria for anorexia”.

Psychiatrists say there is no definitive causal link between exposure to such models and eating disorders in women. But in a survey of Grades 5 to 12 girls, 70% indicated that “magazine images influence their ideals of a perfect body”. This cohort suffers disproportionately from anorexia (at a rate of 2.7% versus 0.6% for the adult population).

Thus, governments are beginning to take action. Last month, in France, parliamentarians passed a bill requiring models to secure a doctor’s certificate confirming their health. Employer penalties include up to 6 months in jail and a $81,000 fine. Furthermore, all images that digitally alter a model’s silhouette must be labelled as “touched up”.

And France is not the only country to act. In 2006, Spain banned models with a BMI of under 18 from participating in Madrid’s fashion week. Shortly thereafter, Italy’s fashion industry agreed to follow a voluntary code to keep unhealthy models off the catwalk. Finally, in 2012, Israel required models to prove a BMI of at least 18.5.

Sadly, these efforts were too late for some. In recent years, models like Isabelle Caro, Ana Carolina Reston, Luisel Ramos, Eliana Ramos, and Hila Elmalich all succumbed to anorexia. So too have thousands of Americans, as an estimated 4% of anorexic individuals die from complications related to the disease. In fact, anorexia is said to have the highest mortality rate of any psychiatric disorder.

To learn more about healthy eating, please contact our partner, Healthy Lifestyle Choices. To combat anorexia, contact the National Eating Disorders Association, the National Eating Disorder Information Centre, the Joy Project and the Alliance for Eating Disorder Awareness.