Graphic artist compares average male body shape across countries

By Assistant Sports & Health Editor

The average body mass index of the American male aged 30–39 is 28.6, nearly one point away from the medical qualification of being obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Health Statistics. The average height of the U.S. male is 5-foot-9, weight is 195.5 pounds and waist circumference is 39.7 inches. However, these measurements can be difficult to visualize when expressed numerically on paper.

Nickolay Lamm, a graphic artist from Pittsburgh, created computer models as part of his Body Measurement Project depicting what the average American man might look like compared to averages of males in other countries.

As a follow-up to this project, Lamm designed a model for an “anti-Barbie” doll based on realistic proportions of American women known as Lammily, as reported by The Chronicle Oct. 22.

“We all know there’s an obesity issue in America, [and] I wanted to show it in a very simple way,” Lamm said in an email. “I wanted this to be a wake-up call. Other countries are simply more fit than we are, [and] I think we know this, but it’s another thing to see it visually.”

To verify that his models accurately represented the average body shape of an American man, Lamm consulted Matthew Reed, a research professor at the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute.

Reed said the Transportation Research Institute has a program that uses laser scanners to capture the external body shapes of hundreds of people, creating statistical models of people’s body shapes. Lamm learned from Reed that his graphic models accurately represented data gathered from the program.

“[Lamm’s] overall body contours now are very accurate,” Reed said. “A thing to keep in mind, of course, is that every individual has a different body shape and what he’s producing are average body shapes, so any particular person with an average BMI might have bigger shoulders or a bigger belly, but it’s a useful way to compare across different [nationwide] populations.”

Although the project aims to shed light on the U.S.’ obesity problem, some are critical of the use of BMI measurements as an accurate measure of obesity.

“A lot of people critique the BMI measurement because it’s not accurate on an individual level because some people have a lot of muscle,” Lamm said. “But if you apply the measurement to a lot of people, high BMI is a cause for concern.”

In addition to average American male models, Lamm created depictions of the average man in other countries, including France, the Netherlands and Japan. What these models illustrate is that the average U.S. man is much shorter than men from other countries, with a much higher BMI.

According to Rich Hamburg, deputy director at the Trust for America’s Health, obesity rates in the U.S. have been steadily increasing throughout the last 30 years but plateaued in the past few years.

“We live in a society that’s very different than it was 30 [or] 40 years ago,” Hamburg said. “Most people were able to walk to work or school, a vast majority of meals were served at home and [where] physical activity in schools [took place] daily, not weekly.”