May 13 – Silly String

Today’s factismal: The newest medical test uses a piece of string.

If there is one thing that is surer in this world than death or taxes, it is the ingenuity of medical researchers in coming up with new tests to help us live longer, better lives. The tests can be as sophisticated as personalized DNA sequencing or as simple as measuring yourself with a piece of string. But no matter how simple or how complicated the test, the end result is information that can lead to better health.

Since DNA tests are pretty complicated, let’s look at how that piece of string is used and what the test means. To start with, find a long piece of string  and drop it down from the top of your head to the floor. Mark it and cut it so that you  have string that is as long as you are tall. Now match the two ends of the string with each other and stretch the string out into a pair of strings that are half as long as the original one. Now, wrap the doubled string around your middle so that it passes over your belly button. Do the ends meet? Or is there a gap?


If the ends meet, then you pass the test. But if they don’t then you should probably start thinking about what you eat and how much you exercise because you just failed the string test. This test is a variant on the more familiar Body Mass Index (BMI) test that has been used for decades to help doctors pinpoint patients who need to work on their weight. As with the BMI, people who fail this test are at a higher risk of developing problems such as diabetes, heart disease, and gallstones. However, unlike the BMI (which provides a general measure of fit or fat), the string test tells doctors specifically if the extra weight you’ve got is carried around your middle (dangerous) or elsewhere (not so dangerous). Interestingly, in a recent study of the test about one third of the people who passed the BMI failed the BMI indicating that they had an unhealthy fat distribution even though they were near their “ideal weight”.

So the next time you go to your doctor, don’t be surprised if she brings out a piece of string!

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