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Original Issue


According to the Society of Actuaries, the average American weighs too much. And when an actuary says it, it's likely to be true, for there are no more dispassionate handicappers than these arithmeticians whose job is to predict how long you—and you, and you—are likely to be running in the human race.

For four years now the actuaries have been making a special clocking of the morning workouts and plate-race performances of 5 million Americans, using 35 tons of UNIVAC cards to compile their information. Since life insurance companies, in a manner of speaking, bet $500 billion worth of policies on the longevity odds established by the actuarial bookmakers they expect the handicapping to be pretty accurate.

Last week the actuaries' latest morning line was published. Its grim statistics packed a hard punch at the bulging American paunch. The average American is 20 pounds overweight, reported Edward A. Lew, spokesman for the Society of Actuaries. What's more, the punch cards showed those who are saddled with this added weight not only can't be favored in the longevity race, but they may not even get around the track at all.

Out from Mr. Lew's voluminous statistics popped the new average weight table for normally clad Americans, which we have so helpfully etched into the steam cabinets above. Middle-aged adults in these tables are carrying the full 20 extra pounds deplored by Mr. Lew, and most other groups are too heavy by nearly as much. Too heavy, that is, when compared with the same height and age groups who have been statistically living the longest. (Actuary Lew is no exception. He is 20 pounds too fat. "Every morning I lecture myself," he says. "But I don't do anything about it.")

The unsympathetic punch cards show the average American man is five pounds heavier now than he was 30 years ago, while the American woman is lighter, but not enough to keep her from the "20 pounds too heavy" charge. And there is more, say the actuaries, to this overweight business than the mere carrying of the load.

Excess weight combined with the slightest increase in blood pressure, according to the actuaries' latest findings, can cause the mortality rate to double. What's more, medical science has made many advances against diseases that attack the underweight, less against those associated with overweight.

Distressing as the American figures are, both physical and statistical, we can't say we're surprised. We've been pointing out for a long time that keeping fit is an important pastime, and we're happy (even if we are still a bit overweight) that the insurance handicappers have come up with figures to prove it.

Whether they realize it or not all Americans are making book on this race every day. You may not think of yourself as a gambler, but you'd better look at the odds.