Illustrated by Sydney Hass.
The Scientist: Claudette Lajam, MD, assistant professor of orthopedic surgery at NYU Langone Hospital for Joint Diseases and a spokesperson for the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons.
The Answer: Yes, there really is such a thing as being big-boned — but it’s not a medical term, and it’s not always used correctly.
First, the facts: Some people’s bones have a bigger circumference than others' — relative to their respective heights, that is. These people are, indeed, bigger-boned. There’s a quick test to determine if you have a small, medium or large frame; all you have to do is measure your wrist. For women between 5’ 2” and 5’ 5”, a circumference of 6.25” to 6.5” is considered medium. Anything below that is small; above that is large. For shorter women, the medium range is 5.5” to 5.57”, and for taller women, it’s 6.25” to 6.5”. (A quick cheat: If you wrap the thumb and middle finger of one hand around the opposite wrist, do they overlap, just touch, or not touch at all?)
What "big-boned" means and what people mean by it may not be the same thing, however. Think Eric Cartman on South Park saying, “I’m not fat, I’m big-boned!” People with larger bones are slightly larger for their heights, yes, but it’s the soft tissue atop and around those bones — muscle and fat — that make some people look more “big-boned” than others. Obese patients who need knee or hip replacement surgery can weigh more than 350 pounds and have big legs, but actually have very small bones. Being overweight has nothing to do with having big bones, nor is it an issue of bone density (a measurement of how much calcium and other minerals are packed into your bones). Regardless, bone density remains an important concern for women, who are more prone to osteoporosis and osteopenia — whether they’re big-boned or not.