Does this man look familiar? He should. This avatar, created by Pittsburgh artist Nickolay Lamm, represents the body of America’s Average Joe: He spends 10% of his disposable income on fast food every year, consumes 2,757 calories per day, and watches 34 hours of television per week. Not surprisingly, the girth of his belly far surpasses those of men from most other developed nations.
Using body mass index (BMI) statistics gathered by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, Lamm created 3-D computer-generated avatars of average male bodies in the Netherlands, the U.S., France, and Japan as part of his Body Measurement Project.
"This project is aimed at men so that it can act as a reality check," Lamm tells Co.Design. "I feel men criticize women's bodies so much. It's time to take a step back and look in the mirror." He thought computer-generated avatars would send a more powerful message about the obesity epidemic than bar graphs, abstracted numbers, or charts.
BMI is a gauge of body fat that’s calculated by height and weight. The CDC rates a BMI of 18.5 to 24.9 as "normal" and a BMI of 25 to 29.9 as "overweight." Any adult with a BMI of 30 or over is considered obese. The average BMI for a typical adult American male is an overweight 28.6, compared with 23.7 among Japanese males, 25.2 for males in the Netherlands, and 25.5 for Frenchmen. Standing in tighty-whities next to his svelter brethren, our American friend channels Homer Simpson.
"The hardest part was to make sure that the models accurately represented BMI," Lamm says of the project, which took him two months to complete. To create avatars that embodied the numbers with accuracy, "I looked through many photos and charts of BMI and consulted with Matthew P. Reed, a research professor at the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute and an expert on body shape measurement."
This isn’t the first time Lamm has used his graphic design skills to offer a reality check about our bodies. For his Average Barbie project, Lamm transformed a Mattel Barbie doll’s funhouse mirror proportions into those of a 19-year-old American girl. The results, of course, highlight just how freakish and alien Barbie really is—one analysis revealed that her feet are so small and ankles so spindly that in real life she'd be unable to support her own weight without crawling. With the highest rates of both obesity and anorexia in the world, the United States could certainly use more reality checks of the Lamm variety.