Quantification Quandaries

Recently, the American Medical Association defined obesity as a disease. Obesity is defined as having a BMI greater than or equal to 30.  Your BMI is defined as your mass in kg divided by the square of your height in meters.

 All of these definitions kind of make sense when taken individually – being really fat has the same detrimental effects as many other diseases –> we need a way to define “being really fat” –> a metric based on how much you weigh compared to your height is a good indicator of how fat you are.

 However, when we open up the bigger picture, the blinding absurdities shine through.  Due to a metric based on 19th century Belgians and the opinions of a group of individuals, Arnold Schwarzenegger at contest weight would now be defined as diseased:


 Even in engineering, where hard mechanical things are far more clear cut and measurable, it is hard to get metrics and data that accurately represent reality.  When it comes to information about squishy humans – health, happiness, and the like – it is nearly impossible for numbers to capture reality. Although the engineer in me wants to quantify everything and screams with frustration when he can’t, more and more I believe that we need to admit that “it’s complicated” and not obscure reality with dangerous simplifying assumptions. 


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s