Health news for baby boomers isn’t often
cheery. Now comes a
National Cancer Institute study
that concludes being even a little
overweight at age 50 can be deadly.
That paunch that defined success for our
parents is killing us, it seems.
The endless studies and debate on weight
and “body mass index” are old news to
Dr. Scott Rigden.
Rigden, a long-time family practice and
bariatric physician, has an office on
Ray Road, just east of the Loop 101
freeway where a hefty number of his
patients are, well, hefty.
To look at him, you wouldn’t think
Rigden understands the problems of being
overweight at all: He stands about
5-foot-11 and weighs a svelte 165
pounds. That puts him well into the
“healthy” portion of his own Body Mass
Index chart for adults.
But Rigden has experienced the problems
of obesity first-hand. “Porkchops” was
his nickname in high school, when he
says he weighed well above 230 pounds,
or about 65 pounds more than he weighs
“That changes you when you are called
‘Porkchops’ for a few years, even though
you laugh it off; you try to be a good
sport and not let it get to you,” Rigden,
now 58, remembers.
His parents and grandparents were
“As I started going through medical
training, I started putting two and two
soon-to-be Doctor Rigden realized was
this: A person’s genes alone are not the
determining factor of his or her weight.
don’t have to go down the same path” as
your parents and grandparents.
So for 30
years, Rigden has maintained his own
weight and helped others struggling with
theirs. For more on his practice, visit
But back to that frightening National Cancer Institute
study that was released last month. The
long and short of it is this:
NCI researchers concluded that even
healthy, non-smokers have a 20% to 40%
increase in the risk of death if they
are overweight at age 50.
That’s just “overweight,” not “obese.”
Or, in terms of body mass, 25-29 on the
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has a web page
-- on Body Mass Index with link to a
handy adult BMI calculator for those who
want to discover their own BMI number.
For example, a 5 foot 4 inch adult man
or woman who weighs 145-174 pounds is
considered “overweight” on the BMI
chart. Anything more than 174 pounds is
“obese” on the BMI scale. An adult who
stands 5 foot 10 inches is “overweight”
at 175-209 pounds and “obese” if his or
her weight tops 210 pounds.
Of course, there are adjustments for
more muscular types and older adults who
might actually have lost muscle mass.
But Ridgen says of the BMI scale, “in
general, it holds.”
Based on the NCI study, then, a 5-foot
8-inch adult man or woman who weighs
more than 165 pounds is risking his or
Ridgen doesn’t dispute the NCI study,
but he’s not pressing the panic button
for all of his patients who are in the
BMI’s “overweight” category. He’s more
concerned about getting them down and
out of the “obese” range.
He likens his approach to putting out
“While I think that (NCI) study probably
has some validity, it’s sort of like
you’re putting out these huge fires and
somebody’s pointing at a little brush
fire,” he said.
“My first goal is just to get (patients)
out of the high risk. If we can do that
…” his voice tails off. “I’m a
pragmatist – that’s hard.”
“We have so many major problems,” Rigden
sighed, then hastened to add: “(But) I’m
not saying we’re ignoring the minor
“Take it seriously, even though you look
pretty good,” he counsels the merely
paunchy or barely “overweight.”
So what does Rigden recommend to boomers
who discover the shadow of death in
their own overweight form?
For people in the borderline
“overweight” category, the targets of
the NCI study, he suggests a better diet
(five servings daily of vegetables and
fruits, for example) and moderate
“We’re a sedentary generation, certainly
compared to our grandparents,” he said.
“If you don’t think you’re too
sedentary, buy a pedometer. A pedometer
is a good tool for baby boomers.”
The goal, he says, 10,000 steps each
day, or about two miles.