Average? Ideal? Desirable? A brief overview of height-weight tables in the United States

J Am Diet Assoc. 1984 Apr;84(4):417-23.


Insurance companies have dominated the development of height-weight tables. Initially, tables indicated average weights for insurees, revealing weight gains with increasing age. While pneumonia and tuberculosis were leading causes of death, underweight was considered undesirable because it was associated with those conditions. Extra weight was then thought to represent a reserve that could be drawn upon in time of illness. As those diseases were brought under control, the risk factors in overweight received increased attention. Since the 1940s, tables have been developed by the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company for "ideal" and "desirable" weights, defined as weights associated with the lowest mortality rate. Body frame size, although poorly defined, was factored into the tables. The data base and philosophy of the tables have been questioned by some researchers. Recently, Metropolitan issued 1983 height and weight tables based on life insurance statistics. Weights for height are slightly higher than in the previous (1959) tables. Although stated weights are those associated with the lowest mortality, they are not labeled "ideal" or "desirable". A method for determining body frame size through measurements of elbow breadth is presented. Health care providers should be aware of the latest revisions of these widely used tables, their philosophy, and data source to ensure most suitable use.

MeSH terms

  • Actuarial Analysis
  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Age Factors
  • Aged
  • Body Weight*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Insurance, Life
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Sex Factors
  • United States