Monday, September 22, 2008

Another bone-headed idea that needs to die

Is a 6-foot-5-inch man who weighs 265 pounds and has a 36 inch waist obese?

To most of us, that would seem like a ridiculous question. Of course not – looking at just those statistics, without additional information, it seems to describe someone who’s in pretty good condition, who works and is reasonably muscular.

Obese means something entirely different. I know from obese – I’ve been that way a good part of my life.

The American Heritage Dictionary – which I’ve always regarded as pretty authoritative – defines the word this way: “Extremely fat; grossly overweight.” I may be off-base (although I really doubt I am), but I don’t think of a 36-inch waistline as extremely fat or grossly anything.

And yet that’s exactly what the FMCSA Medical Review Board wants all of us to believe.

For some time, we’ve been following the proposal by the FMCSA Medical Review Board to use BMI – body mass index – as a way to determine which truckers should be tested for sleep apnea.

This idea has brought in as much reaction as any other issue we’ve explored in the three plus years we’ve been on the air.

Part of that reaction was a call from a trucker named Kevin, who is 6-foot-5-inch, 265 pounds and has a 36-inch waistline.

I put those figures into a widely accepted body mass index calculator. And guess what? His BMI is 31.4.

Under the Medical Review Board plan, any BMI over 30 would require you to have regular testing for sleep apnea – testing that can cost thousands of dollars.

Considering the financial state of trucking, the state of the economy, and the number of truckers who lack any kind of health insurance – double the percentage of uninsured in the general population – this is unconscionable.

I sincerely doubt our friend Kevin is a prime candidate for apnea.

In fact, I don’t think he’s overweight, much less obese. But the medical folks are trying to tell us he is.

Wonder why? Here’s the answer: The test they’re using to calculate body mass index is highly inaccurate.

It has no way to tell the difference between weight from fat and weight from muscle. And of course muscle weighs more, so a lot of people who are in very good shape, and who have a very low risk of apnea, are going to get caught up in this if the plan becomes a formal proposed regulation.

Luckily, that hasn’t happened yet. It may not. But if it does, we’ll make sure all of you know.

Meanwhile, I want to put out a challenge to any trucker out there who’s in good physical condition. Plug your height and weight into an online BMI calculator. You can use one here.

If it says you’re overweight or obese, here’s what I want you to do. Next time you see your U.S. senators or representative, ask them to look you up and down and then ask if they think you’re obese.

I’m betting that for many of you, the answer would be no. It’s a great way to show your lawmakers how ridiculous this proposal is.

As some of you know, I have sleep apnea. I know it can be a serious problem if it’s not treated, and if someone really does have it, I want them to get help.

But that doesn’t mean I’m willing to needlessly drain other people’s wallets or subject them to unnecessary medical tests to do that. That kind of activity is why health costs in this country keep spiraling upward, which helps no one but harms all of us.

We need to make sure this bone-headed idea never sees the light of day. Please, make your voice heard today.