Fool me twice

The "Metropolitan Life" tables.

By Steven B. Halls, MD,FRCPC

In 1943, the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company introduced their standard height-weight tables for men and women. The tables were revised slightly in 1983. They were called "desirable" weights, which would indicate those persons with the lowest mortality rates4.

Dr. Halls Dr. Halls
That claim of “the lowest mortality rates”, more below.



 
 

The phrase “ideal weight5” gradually became associated with these tables in common usage, even though the word "ideal" was not specifically published with the tables.

Height & Weight Table For Women1


Height
Feet Inches
Small
Frame
Medium
Frame
Large
Frame
4′ 10″102-111109-121118-131
4′ 11″103-113111-123120-134
5′ 0″104-115113-126122-137
5′ 1″106-118115-129125-140
5′ 2″108-121118-132128-143
5′ 3″111-124121-135131-147
5′ 4″114-127124-138134-151
5′ 5″117-130127-141137-155
5′ 6″120-133130-144140-159
5′ 7″123-136133-147143-163
5′ 8″126-139136-150146-167
5′ 9″129-142139-153149-170
5′ 10″132-145142-156152-173
5′ 11″135-148145-159155-176
6′ 0″138-151148-162158-179

Weights at ages 25-59 based on lowest mortality.
Weight in pounds according to frame (in indoor
clothing weighing 3 lbs.; shoes with 1″ heels)

Height & Weight Table For Men2

Height
Feet Inches
Small
Frame
Medium
Frame
Large
Frame
5′ 2″128-134131-141138-150
5′ 3″130-136133-143140-153
5” 4″132-138135-145142-156
5′ 5″134-140137-148144-160
5′ 6″136-142139-151146-164
5′ 7″138-145142-154149-168
5′ 8″140-148145-157152-172
5′ 9″142-151148-160155-176
5′ 10″144-154151-163158-180
5′ 11″146-157154-166161-184
6′ 0″149-160157-170164-188
6′ 1″152-164160-174168-192
6′ 2″155-168164-178172-197
6′ 3″158-172167-182176-202
6′ 4″162-176171-187181-207

Weights at ages 25-59 based on lowest mortality.
Weight in pounds according to frame (in indoor
clothing weighing 5 lbs.; shoes with 1″ heels)

What is Frame Size?

The Met Life website gives the following instructions3 to estimate frame size:

"Bend forearm upward at a 90 degree angle. Keep fingers straight and turn the inside of your wrist toward your body. Place thumb and index finger of other hand on the two prominent bones on either side of the elbow. Measure space between your fingers on a ruler. (A physician would use a caliper.) Compare with tables below listing elbow measurements for medium-framed men and women. Measurements lower than those listed indicate small frame. Higher measurements indicate large frame."

ELBOW MEASUREMENTS FOR MEDIUM FRAME
Height in 1″ heelsElbowHeight in 1″ heelsElbow
MenBreadthWomenBreadth
5’2″-5’3″21/2″-27/8″4’10”-4’11”21/4″-21/2″
5’4″-5’7″25/8″-27/8″5’0″-5’3″21/4″-21/2″
5’8″-5’11”23/4″-3″5’4″-5’7″23/8″-25/8″
6’0″-6’3″23/4″-31/8″5’8″-5’11”23/8″-25/8″
6’4″27/8″-31/4″6’0″21/2″-23/4″

Talking Moose
Talking Moose
Maybe 1 doctor in history, used a caliper a few times, then probably gave up.


Dr. Halls Dr. Halls
Measuring the width of distal humeral condyles, has NO published literature support. Speaking as a radiologist who has seen thousands of elbow X-rays, this idea is bullshit.



 
 

Credit should be given to the Med Life table creators for attempting to use "frame size" as a way to compensate for the differences between peoples body shapes and skeletal muscle mass. In theory, elbow-width or wrist-width might positively correlate slightly with muscle and bone mass. But in practice, the definition of frame size is too difficult for people to use, so virtually nobody uses frame size as intended. Instead, people subjectively choose their own categories.

Hector Hector
I may look fat, but I have a wide frame and big bones.


Talking Moose
Talking Moose
You don’t look fat. You DO have a big chin bone.



 
 

Problems with the Met Life tables

Most people who use the Met Life tables don’t realize that they should specify their height while wearing "1 inch heel shoes". There are MANY websites using these tables that neglect to point this out.

The tables were designed for adults aged 25 to 59 years. They are certainly not suitable for children, and their usefulness in young adults is dubious. ( Remember that the tables were based on data collected by Life Insurance companies, and not many young adults have life insurance.)

The tables give reasonable results for people whose stature (tallness) is shorter than the average, but the table results are particularly poor for tall people. This is illustrated in the chart below. The Met Life "medium frame" weight range is illustrated as a light blue or pink color. The median weight at each increment of height is the solid black line.

average weight menaverage weight women

Levi Levi
Are you saying the pink and blue zones should tilt up more?


Dr. Halls Dr. Halls
Yes. They SHOULD have run parallel to- and just below the Median weights (the black line labelled average).



 
 

Notice that they don’t match in slope. For very tall men and women, the Met Life tables suggest very low weights.

 

The heights and weights of Men and Women are gradually increasing over time. People are slightly taller and heavier now, than they were in 1979. As population tallness increases, more and more people will discover the problems with the Met Life tables.

In light of the above problems, I believe the Metropolitan Life tables of height and weight should not be recommended for setting a target goal for weight-loss, unless you happen to be just below average height for your Gender.

ideal weightFor better Ideal body weight calculation methods, visit this page.

References

  1. http://www.metlife.com/Lifeadvice/Tools/Heightnweight/Docs/women.html
  2. http://www.metlife.com/Lifeadvice/Tools/Heightnweight/Docs/men.html
  3. http://www.metlife.com/Lifeadvice/Tools/Heightnweight/Docs/frametable.html
  4. Harrison GG, Height-weight tables. Ann Intern Med 1985; 103:489-94.
  5. Pai MP, Paloucek FP, The origin of the "Ideal" body weight equations. Ann Pharmacol 2000; 34:1066-69
  6. Health Implications of Obesity NIH Consens Statement Online 1985 Feb 11-13 [cited year month day]; 5(9):1-7.

January 29, 2015 update. In response to a thoughtful email criticism I received, I’m adding more to this page. A fellow wrote me saying (paraphrased) that the MetLife tables give a good goal to strive for, because they give the “lowest mortality rates“. Look back up at the top of my page. I wrote my first paragraph in year 2000, and I never questioned it until 2015. I wrote, unquestioningly, what I had read elsewhere, that Metropolitan Life used the weights that gave the lowest mortality rates. But what if that claim is false?

In late 2014 I became aware of some really good data that contradicts that MetLife claim, and now I am wondering if they “accidentally fudged it” or had an “ulterior motive”.

Read this review of Body Mass Index and Lowest Mortality, and then return here.

Talking Moose
Talking Moose
Going. OK, I’m back. Now what?



 
 

It says by the time you reach age 50, your BMI should be between 25 and 30 to have the lowest mortality. More specifically, a BMI of 27.3, is very close to-, just slightly lower than the median BMI.

Talking Moose
Talking Moose
I can imagine how this happened. My friends made a little skit to show you.


David David
I’m Dave from the Actuarial department. Here’s the lowest mortality weight data you asked for.


Levi Levi
I’m Levi from Marketing. Thanks Dave. Return to the basement and carry on. Now lets shift these numbers lower, and get this out to our salesforce.


Megan Megan
I’m Megan from Sales, selling insurance to younger Mr. Halls. You love your family and this will protect them. Because your weight is higher than our desirable range with the lowest mortality, we have to charge you more.


Dr. Halls Dr. Halls
OK, I trust you. I’ve seen your ads.



 
 

Did you click on any faces or find other surprises?

 

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