It appears that the UK measurement muddle lingers on in the field of nutrition and diet. Ronnie Cohen reports a recent incident, and draws conclusions. And what about stones – surely they belong on the beach and not on our weighing scales?
I recently heard a conversation about dieting plans between my wife and her friend. At one point in the conversation, her friend said that she plans to lose 3 kilograms in weight. Then my wife asked her what that is in stones. Her friend said that she had no idea. Using two systems necessitates conversion factors between these systems to convert from one system to the other. To help my wife to comprehend body weight in kilograms, I looked for an unopened food product in my kitchen cupboard that weighs one kilogram and found a packet of rice. I showed it to my wife, telling her this weighs one kilogram and asked her to feel how much one kilogram weighs.
My wife is British. Like most Britons, she expresses her weight in stones and pounds. A lot of Britons have trouble understanding body weights in kilograms and tend to use stones and pounds. When you tell them your body weight in kilograms, they would ask you what that is in stones and pounds. This is despite almost half a century of metric education in the UK. You could be forgiven for thinking that they have never picked up a 1 kg pack of anything in a shop. My wife’s friend comes from Switzerland. I believe that the Swiss use kilograms for weights in general, including body weight.
I suspect that there are countless conversations like this between Britons and other Europeans. In continental Europe and Scandinavia, people have no problems expressing their height in metres and their weight in kilograms and would have no problem understanding height and weight in metric units. In the UK, too many Britons find it incomprehensible when others tell them their height in metres and their weight in kilograms. The reasons for this phenomenon are inertia, peer pressure and custom (i.e. what you are used to).
In the UK, the stone has a peculiar status. Historically, different stones were used for weighing different commodities. Stones were widely used in commerce until the adoption of the metric system in industry and agriculture as part of the Metrication Programme, which began in 1965. The stone ceased to be a legal unit for trade in the Weights and Measures Act 1985. However, the stone lingers on as a unit only to express body weight. It is not used for anything else nowadays.
The use of stones and pounds also obscures the relationship between personal body weight and kilogram-based weights in a typical gym.
If there is one lesson we can learn from the mutual incomprehension in the discussion about weight loss plans, it is that we all need a system of weights and measures that we can all understand and use. We do not need two systems.
If there are any readers who have trouble comprehending body weight, whether their own or someone else’s, here is the example of the packet of rice I mentioned earlier in this article:
Lift it up to feel how much it weighs. The number of kilograms you weigh is the same number of one kilogram packets of rice.