Manhattanites Congratulate Selves On Being Really, Really Thin

The island of Manhattan has the lowest obesity rate in New York state. Following the "enough rope" school of journalism, the Times found some terrible people to greet this news by saying things like: "Look at my cute little triceps!"

That was Gail Zweigenthal, a former editor who covered things like important cruise ship christenings for Gourmet, and who lives — of course — on the Upper East Side. Zweigenthal proudly tells the paper that she lifts weights and walks three miles every single day.

New York, which is already one of the thinner states in the country, is home to Manhattan, where overweight people comprise just 42% of the population. (The national average is 67%.) These data are, of course, derived from the Body Mass Index — and strangely, the fact that while obesity is a serious health problem, BMI is an unreliable indicator of a person's health, goes unmentioned in the Times story. In any case, the reason Manhattan is New York's thinnest county is undoubtedly because it is also one of the state's, and the country's, wealthiest places. In poorer neighborhoods of Manhattan, like Harlem, obesity rates and the prevalence of obesity-linked diseases, like Type 2 diabetes, are higher.

Maybe the fact that food choice — not to mention the choice to join a gym — is in America largely a function of social class and income level is what led reporter Anne Barnard to concentrate exclusively on interviewing skinny rich ninnies for this piece. We have:

  • Brian Ermanski, a 28-year-old "slender yet muscular painter" who lives in SoHo and, from a bench outside the restaurant Balthazar, says things like, "It's probably more like 20 percent overweight down here." Ermanski smokes to stay thin.
  • Manager of the Madison Avenue Intermix — a store which does not sell clothes above a size eight — Lynne Bacci, who works out "to fit into skinny jeans and tank tops."
  • The aforementioned Zweigenthal, who continued, "If I feel fat, I can't enjoy eating. This is unhealthy — that if I gain a few pounds, I'm not happy — but it's the truth of me."
  • Exhale Gym and Spa director Susan Tomback, who calls exercise for her clients "a lifestyle thing. It's like a club. They go to brunch afterwards at Sant Ambroeus." Sant Ambroeus is a restaurant whose brunch menu includes a filet of sea bream that costs $39. Exhale Gym and Spa is a gym and spa where membership can cost up to $285 a month.
  • One denizen of the Upper East Side who says that she was raised to explicitly connect social class with weight. "My mom always says, 'The smaller the dress size, the bigger the apartment.'"

Then Barnard quotes a 52-year-old plumber from the Bronx named Chuck Ortiz, who, at 6' and 220 lbs, would be classified as just under obese according to the BMI. Ortiz, who eats a $5 chicken gyro for lunch, doesn't understand why wealthy New Yorkers pay for a gym "when there's a park right there."

That's the sort of outer borough logic that doesn't get much play in the land of lunches at Balthazar and $285/month "lifestyle" gyms and stores that abjure a size 10 dress.


Where Thin People Roam, And Sometimes Even Eat
[NYTimes]
Top 10 Reasons BMI Is Bogus [NPR]