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Know thy numbers

November 9, 2011

Over the last couple of years, Microsoft has been sponsoring a “Know Your Numbers” and Flu Vaccination Program as part of their employee benefits package. For a month starting mid-October to mid-November, health screening stations are set up all over campus that folks  can attend with their spouses and dependents to get basic health information.

The health screening lasts about 10-15 minutes and includes basic physical measurements (Height, Weight, Body Fat, BMI and Waist size), along with cholesterol, glucose and blood pressure. After you get your results, you have an option to chat with a health coach about the changes you should be making to better your health. I believe the big motivation behind this program is to help folks live a healthier lifestyle and identify some positive changes right away.

Being a big proponent of a healthy lifestyle (and never turning down anything that is free), I signed up as soon as I heard about the program last year. This year I went as well, and from the two consecutives visits, I’ve pretty much concluded that those numbers are really ballpark figures with lots of room for measurement errors and would only be useful for someone whose neglected their health for awhile. Here is how my screening went– you can judge for yourself whether you agree with my opinion.

I showed up ten minutes early and was pleasantly surprised there was no wait, and a health professional was available to see me right away. (Score one in favor of the on campus screening. My doctor’s office takes at least 15 minutes to see a nurse.)

The Health professional turned out to be a young girl with braces and an accent, and it took lots of “Pardon me” and guesswork to interpret what she was saying.

She asked me my age and date of birth (Why would you need the age when you have my date of birth? Oh well, I won’t dwell on little things).

Then she asked me my height – Isn’t the point of this that you actually measure and provide numbers so I know! Otherwise they should rename this to “Tell your numbers”.  I was hoping she would actually measure my height as I keep hearing that some folks grow an inch or so when practicing yoga (how I wish yoga gods would smile in my direction! I’d be happy with half an inch!)

Then she asked me to step on the scale (with my boots, jacket, and everything else I had on and in my pockets) – I offered to take my boots off, but she said she’ll just subtract 3lbs from the total to get my weight. She obviously did not realize who she was talking to! I weigh myself twice a day and calculate the mean to account for average body fluctuations.

Then she proceeded to measure my waist as I was still bundled up in all my fall layers. She awkwardly measured somewhere in the region between the belly button and the hips yielding a result of at least 3 inches higher than my usual waist measurement.

I was then asked to hold a body fat measuring device (which to my knowledge is the least accurate way to measure body fat)

Omron HBF-306C Fat Loss Monitor, Black

Now let’s talk about BMI. Why are we still using some “scientific” proxy for body fat which was invented in 1830s? Has the technology not propelled us forward where we can speak in terms of actual body fat percentages  (even if they are measured by a cheap $20 Omron device) rather than this mathematical junk which does not take into account the bone structure, sex, or muscle composition. According to the BMI calculation, it’s basically your weight, divided by your height squared. Based on the number, you fall into the following buckets: underweight, normal, overweight and obese. A 6’3” 200lb man would have the same BMI as a 6’3” 200lb woman, which in reality does not equate to how fat either person is. The man is most likely more muscular and bigger boned, with completely normal body fat %, but he would still fall into the overweight category. This is BS!

We then proceeded to measure my cholesterol level. Since my appointment was at 3pm, it was safer for everyone that I did not fast to get my LDL and Triglyceride measured. So I only got my cholesterol, HDL and glucose numbers, which were all within normal.

The best part of the whole thing is that they create graphs for you to track your results over the years. Looks like my bad cholesterol went down but so did my good one.



My glucose level stayed about the same


How can you spot a measuring error? With my body fat %, weight and BMI being the same how could my waist measurement go up 3 inches? I am surprised I am not wearing Eric’s pants as according to this year’s measurement I am getting close to his pant size.


I do agree with the premise behind knowing your numbers and making healthy living a priority; however, if you are actually looking for accuracy (which an OCD person like myself always is), then regular annual appointment with your physician is a better alternative.

[Jane Asks]: Do you know your numbers?

3 Comments leave one →
  1. November 10, 2011 5:54 pm

    Hey I think at the club every member is entitled to one free body scan in the 20/20 office each year. They use the DEXA scan to get a pretty accurate measurment of body fat percentage. If you do it – my advice is to wear a running sports bra & your running tights, us ladies get a more accurate reading that way if things are more “compressed”.

  2. Mark permalink
    November 10, 2011 11:34 pm

    Funny that you mentioned that you weren’t fasting. I was thinking you were a Mrs. Cranky Pants because of that when I first started reading this 🙂

    Totally your fault if you didn’t take your jacket/any extra layers off before she measured you. That’s really a rookie mistake. 😛

    I had a WAY better experience. My waist size was smaller than the last time it was measured (and is roughly 6in smaller than the waist size on my pants). And I loved the weight their scale had so much that I wanted to take it home with me! Plus she took off 3.4 pounds for my clothes, and that was already without my jacket + cell phone. I did forget to empty my pockets before being weighed, but I’ll live with that result.

    I know a trainer that has one of these omron devices, and that’s what she uses to check her own impedance. She agrees that it’s not perfect, but it’s something to use as a guideline. I hadn’t heard about the DEXA scan before. Another option is to weigh yourself in a pool of water. Gold’s Gym in redmond will do this, but I can’t find the price online.

    The report also shows your “health age” number. What was yours? Mine was 4 years younger than I am.

    I don’t have a graph to track my numbers from last year, but going by the report I got from my doctor about 13m ago, I’m gonna brag about some of my numbers…

    Total cholesterol – Was 164, now 103
    LDL was 83, now 51

    When the nurse saw the cholesterol number, she actually told me that it was good enough for me to have some nasty fried food for lunch!

    I wish every day could be “know your numbers” day.


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