Shirtless Americans Next To People From Skinnier Countries Show How Fat We Are

Nothing says you’ve got a few pounds to lose like looking in the mirror. Here, an artist holds up a mirror to America’s expanding waist line.

The obesity crisis is hard to visualize. There are maps, sure, and lots of statistics. But what does it really mean when we say that the average middle-aged man in the U.S. has a BMI (Body Mass Index) of 29, while in Japan, a 23.7?


Artist and researcher Nickolay Lamm, the man behind this visualization of New York City’s income inequality, came up with a simple yet effective way to illustrate the differences in obesity between the U.S. and other, healthier countries: digital images of average middle-aged men standing next to each other.

Lamm’s latest project compares BMI (and height and waist measurements) of men from the U.S, Japan, the Netherlands, and France, all based on government data from each of the countries. He says he consulted with Matthew P. Reed, “a research professor at the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute and an expert on body shape measurement,” to ensure the renderings were accurate.

The men don’t actually look all that different–the American has a bit of a gut, but nothing that some daily exercise couldn’t fix. Perhaps that’s part of the point: the obesity crisis is fixable, even as it continues to get worse.

About the author

Ariel Schwartz is a Senior Editor at Co.Exist. She has contributed to SF Weekly, Popular Science, Inhabitat, Greenbiz, NBC Bay Area, GOOD Magazine and more.