Whoa! Where has this post and others been? I had originally intended to share observations and insights about Project JACKED on a weekly, or close to that, basis. However, I have become so engrossed in all of the internal meetings and educational presentations, the individualized coaching, and the data collection of JACKED that somehow we are at the halfway mark of the program and I need to issue a report.
And oh, there is much to report. First, let’s take a cursory look at who is participating in Project JACKED. We have an intervention group, which receives all the educational programming and coaching, of 19 participants. Average age for the entire group is 54.9 with a low of 33 years and a high age of 71 years (young!). There are 6 females, with an average age of 54.8, and 13 males, with an average age of 55.0. I am interested in knowing if this age represents the average among U.S. citizens when health and body composition transformation programs are typically undertaken. Or it could just be a peer group of similar age to the lead investigator in the study!
The control group, who provide access to the same data regarding body composition, caloric consumption and nutrient breakdown, and activity levels, but who do not receive any of the JACKED program interventions, contains 12 participants (6 men and 6 women). The high age of this group is 66, the low is 29, and the mean is 52.4. Although smaller, this is a comparable population sample with similar stratification.
The data that we are attempting to manipulate and quantify in the program include measures of bodyweight, circumference, bodyfat percentage, body mass index, and various ratios commonly used as standards in health assessment. We are also recording a variety of subjective data including overall daily energy levels, ratings of health, fitness, and body satisfaction. Additionally, several participants are doing pre/post blood panels and sharing that information for confidential use in the study.
Let’s take a look at body mass index (BMI), which is obtained by dividing weight in kilograms by height in meters squared. It’s a quick and dirty calculation used to describe associations between body size and various health parameters across populations. BMI classifications can be underweight (<18.5), normal (18.5-25), overweight (25-30), and obese (>30). CDC statistics state that the average BMI for U.S. females is 26.5 and that for males is 26.6. The JACKED intervention group started the program with a BMI of 24.6 for females and 24.1 for males. Using standard BMI terms, the average U.S. man and woman are both overweight. Our JACKED participants come in just under the cutoff, on the high side of normal. The control group, while higher than the intervention group, still came in under national standards with a collective BMI of 26.2. While this is up for interpretation, the citizenry of southwest Montana, where this pilot study is being conducted, may potentially be healthier (or at least have more ideal BMI’s), on average, than the typical U.S. citizen.
But let’s hold on a minute. While BMI may offer rapid, and potentially meaningful, data for looking at gross body size distributions, for us in JACKED, and actually for all of you readers, it is virtually meaningless. What, say you, how can this be, especially when the government and many health and medical organizations use BMI as an indicator of wellness. Is JZ blaspheming these institutions? No, not completely…well, maybe just a little. You see, yes, at the very extreme ends of BMI, where a person may be severely underweight or obese, statistical significance exists regarding health risks and longevity predictions. Not so much nearer the middle. We find ourselves in a statistical conundrum as we get on either the high or low side of normal BMI, where the very real prevalence of both false positives and false negatives exist.
Allow me to first explain what a false positive BMI labelling might look like. Let’s say we have an individual, whose BMI is over 25 and is thus classified as overweight. This is actually quite common in people who are amply-muscled, having a higher weight but often in conjunction with ideal levels of bodyfat. Larger-framed, densely-muscled people get the shaft with BMI classifications. The are misled to believe they are not healthy because of a silly measure. Because of higher muscle mass, these folks are given a false positive score and are often inappropriately told they need to lose weight. While more common in mesomorphic males, females can also be subject to this phenomenon. Muscle always wins. As we get older, it’s much better to have a little more muscle than a little less. The condition of shrinking or inadequate muscle tissue with advancing age is known in the medical literature as age-related sarcopenia. Muscle is our most metabolically active tissue, supports our skeletons, and makes it possible for us to function without diminished capacities. That’s why we lift weights in JACKED, and no, you can’t get all the same benefits by doing resistance band work while laying on the floor. Oh, and what if someone says,”Well, that extra muscle is just added weight that puts an excessive load on your joints.” Wrong again. Muscle is actually our greatest shock absorber and works to protect our joints, which actually benefit from regular controlled compressive forces anyway. Whenever anyone offers advice on bodyweight and force vector management, make sure they know their biomechanics and cellular physiology inside out before they start making recommendations. Just sayin’.
Now we get into the concept of false negatives with BMI, and this concerns me greatly. For decades I have worked with clients whose BMI scores were normal, and who actually looked to be of normal body composition when standing fully clothed (hopefully) at the grocery store checkout. But underneath that fashionable outfit, they had a significant layer of subcutaneous fat between their skin and bones, and dreadfully not enough muscle. BMI readings of normal then give these folks a false sense of health security (a false negative), and suggest they need not worry about making changes in bodycomp when they by all means should do so immediately. The literature now calls this condition “skinny fat” and I see it all the time. It’s a health risk.
So if BMI isn’t so meaningful, what is? I’m so glad you asked. It’s percent bodyfat, which allows one to take bodyweight, and separate most of the fat from the lean body mass (everything else). By achieving ideal levels of bodyfat, which exist in ranges and not absolutes, we can not only quantify what constitutes the makeup of one’s body but also establish very strong, well-researched correlations with health, performance, and longevity. We’ll look more definitively at ideal bodyfat ranges for both genders in an upcoming treatise, but for now, let’s just see where we are both in the JACKED group, and in the nation.
According to the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, the obesity epidemic plaguing the country has average bodyfat levels pegged at 40.0% for females and 28.1% for males. This is just too high, wrecking our health, our healthcare system, and the quality of life, either directly or indirectly, for most of us. Let’s stop right here and say that JACKED is not a “fat-shaming” program of any sort. It’s a caring, serious, and scientific approach to addressing this problem. The JACKED intervention group came in at 32.8% for women and 20.3% for males, on average at intake. The control group measured a combined (male and female) score of 27.9%, still besting the national averages and suggesting a healthier baseline for our local community.
Bodyfat percentage, when within ideal ranges, neither too high nor too low, is an outstanding correlate to health and a facilitator of fitness performance. And it is “hard” data. Many times a person embarks on a program similar to (but certainly not as awesome as) JACKED, and feels great, improves various health markers like blood pressure and blood glucose levels, but is often disappointed when she didn’t lose much weight. This is very commonly associated with a loss of bodyfat and a concurrent increase in lean body (muscle) mass. This is very much desirable. The scale didn’t show much change, but the health and longevity benefits were many.
As we progress over the next two months with Project JACKED, I’ll offer some insights into how we are using group support and crowdsourcing, reviewing and dissecting the scientific literature, busting myths right and left, and having fun and success in the program. Thanks for joining us and stay tuned for some really interesting reports that may just help you in your own quests for maximized healthspan.