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Body weight and the shape of the natural distribution of weight, in very large samples of German, Austrian and Norwegian conscripts


OBJECTIVE: To investigate the shape of the natural distribution of body weight in conscripts.

DESIGN: Investigation of weight and weight distributions in German, Austrian and Norwegian conscripts.

SUBJECTS: A total of 10 706 651 West German conscripts (30 birth cohorts born between 1938 and 1971, except for the cohorts born 1941–1944), 507 095 Austrian conscripts (10 birth cohorts born between 1966 and 1975), and 27 311 Norwegian conscripts (1997 conscription).

RESULTS: In Germans, average body weight increased by 100 g/y up to birth cohort 1965, thereafter by 400 g/y, and by 200 g/y in Austrians. Body weight is not normally distributed, but skewed to the right. Also power transformation was inadequate to sufficiently describe the shape of this distribution. The right tail of weight distributions declines exponentially, beyond a cut-off of +0.5 standard deviations. There is a strong relation between average weight and the prevalence of obesity, except for those cohorts that suffered from severe starvation (1945–1948) during early and mid-childhood. These cohorts appeared to be more resistant against obesity.

CONCLUSION: Obesity appears to be a characteristic feature of a population as a whole, and does not seem to be a separate problem of only the obese people. It may be questioned whether (in terms of public health) the optimal solution for treating obesity is treating the obese people, or whether one should consider measures to reduce average weight in a population instead, as this might reduce the number obese people and the severity of the illness.

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The authors wants to thank the Institut für Wehrmedizinalstatistik und Berichtswesen, Remagen, and the Seksjon for Helsestatistik, Statistik Sentralbyra, Oslo, Norway, for generously supporting us with conscript data. The study was supported by Deutsche Gesellschaft für Auxologie.

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Correspondence to M Hermanussen.

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Hermanussen, M., Danker-Hopfe, H. & Weber, G. Body weight and the shape of the natural distribution of weight, in very large samples of German, Austrian and Norwegian conscripts. Int J Obes 25, 1550–1553 (2001).

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  • body weight
  • conscripts
  • weight distribution

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