Are You Big Boned or Overweight?

Are You Big Boned or Overweight?

Published June 12, 2008

“I’ve always been a big woman. I’m big boned!”

“He’s a big guy; he’s not overweight. It’s just that he has a large frame.” 

Posted June 10, 2008 – Somewhere along the way, many people have mistaken bones for fat, especially on overweight people who are very tall. First of all, unless you have X-ray vision, you can’t tell if someone has big bones if there’s a lot of body fat over them.

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Tall people who are over-fat are often referred to as “big boned” or “large framed.” It’s fascinating, because the size of a thigh bone does not determine how much body fat is stuffed into that thigh. And how do big bones create a 40-inch waist?
A 5’10” woman who’s overweight is hardly referred to as plump or pudgy. But a 5’2” woman with proportionately the same amount of excess body fat is typically called plump or pudgy. Hmmm…
Size of fat cells and height of person are not related
A tall person has longer than average bones. But bone length has nothing to do with bone mass or body fat. A “solid” build is not to be confused with a muscular build. “Solid” is a polite way of saying someone is overweight.
Excess body fat can be so densely packed within a particular space (such as thighs), that it almost mimics the appearance of muscle because it’s not a “fluffy” or jiggly kind of fat. When this tightly-packed fat is on a tall frame, the person is perceived as being big-boned.
Resistance training, not height, is what influences bone density and thickness. Next time you see a “big-boned” person, imagine what his or her body fat reading would be with a caliper skin-fold test.
And even when a person has thick bones, this doesn’t necessarily mean generous girth. A thick bone on a six-foot-tall woman can still be surrounded by a thin layer of body fat and lean muscle. Look no further than many competitive tennis players such as Venus Williams (6’1”) and Maria Sharapova (6’2”).
And a delicate, thin bone on a six-foot-tall woman can be surrounded by layers of fat, creating the appearance of that “large frame.” There is no relationship between bone length and fat cells, period. Diet and exercise are the key players here. Thus, a very tall person can have a light or delicate frame, such as fashion models and skilled high-jumpers. Likewise, a very short person can have a compact structure, such as some gymnasts and wrestlers.
Let’s examine two body types
Excess body fat tends to distribute evenly throughout the mesomorph’s naturally athletic-looking build. But endomorphs have naturally below-average muscle mass, are rounder in shape and have a naturally higher body fat percentage than mesomorphs. Body fat tends to concentrate in the endomorph’s hips, thighs and upper arms. All of this is a tendency. Weight lifting and food intake are potent variables that affect apparent body type.
A 5’10” female mesomorph who is 30 pounds overweight will carry the weight more proportionately than the 5’10” female endomorph. Yet both women can have identical body fat percentages. It’s easy to see how the tall mesomorph with extra body fat can be perceived as big-boned, rather than overweight.
“She’s a big girl!” is a common expression for the tall, overweight mesomorph. And even endomorphs with extra pounds are called “naturally big.”
And let’s not forget tall men with weight to lose. Does “big guy” come to mind? Let’s face the truth: In a society that serves up huge portions of high-calorie foods, big screen TVs with their remotes, computers and electronics making life increasingly immobile, a very tall person is just as prone to carrying excess fat as is a shorter individual. Stop blaming the bones!
Slow metabolism is also a culprit, and with an unhealthy lifestyle, any “body type” can fall victim to a stunted metabolic rate. Next time you think someone is “just naturally big,” ask yourself what the bigness is made of. Is it king-size muscle fibers? Funny how a lot of these mighty muscle fibers are in the tummy! When the tape measure circles 18 inches around your “big” friend’s arm, is it because there’s a big bone inside? If you think it’s muscle, ask him to flex it. Fat cannot be flexed!
What about people who get bigger with time? Do bones get bigger? Or do fat cells get bigger? The opposite is true when it comes to bones; as we age, bones become smaller: less dense, less “thick.” But something else increases: body fat. This fact of aging occurs to people of all heights.
Height and weight charts—nahhh!
Such a standard chart says that a 5’8” woman can weigh up to 165 pounds and still be within a normal weight range. Even when a competitive female bodybuilder of this height builds up a lot of muscle (which is heavier than fat), she still may weigh only 150. So how can 165 pounds translate to “normal” or “healthy” weight for the average woman?
Chuck these charts. Reach for the skin-fold calipers instead. According to the American Council on Exercise, the “athletic” range for a woman’s body fat is 14-20 percent; and for a man, 6-13 percent.
People who are blessed with surplus height need to exercise and eat healthfully as much as anybody else. Never use your regal stature as an excuse to avoid working out.
Body fat percentage is just one of several elements used in gauging a person’s physical fitness—and the importance of a healthy body fat percentage is equally applicable to men and women of all heights. The other elements are: muscle strength, muscle endurance, cardiovascular fitness, and flexibility.
This article is provided courtesy of, the World’s largest and most comprehensive online health resource specifically targeted to African Americans.

Written by BET-Staff


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