10/24/2008 05:12 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Can You Tell If Someone is Obese Over the Phone?


This is the kind of Mensa-level question posed by the D.J. on the radio show I sometimes listen to in the A.M. It piqued my curiosity because just mere minutes before there was a commercial for a bariatric surgery clinic that went like this:

[ambient noise of children screaming, roller coasters whooshing, people talking]
Child: Mom! Come ride this roller coaster with me, please??
Woman [to child]: I'm sorry sweetheart, maybe next time!

Woman [to us, wheezing]:
It's just so hard being obese. I can't even ride a roller coaster with my kids. I want my kids to have a fun mom, not one that has to sit on the sidelines! [huff, puff, grunt, wheeze]

Then the obligatory plug for bariatric surgery.

Besides the general vapidity of the commercial and the issue of whether surgery would actually solve the fictional mom's problem, my real issue with the commercial was that the voice actress playing "Fat Woman in Amusement Park" didn't sound fat. Not at all. And yet, can one "hear" fat?

The D.J. apparently thought so. In fact, he claimed he had "a gift" for it. He challenged his listeners to call in and based on their answers to a few non-weight related questions, he would be able to guess their weight.

As will surprise no one in our reality-obsessed 15-minutes-of-fame society, there were plenty of callers. The first woman said her name, that she played softball 4 times a week, and her favorite show was C.S.I. The D.J. called "fat" on her. He guessed her weight to be about 250. She weighed - according to her - 235. Score one for the D.J.

Caller two was a man who talked about his love for the local sports team, his hunting dogs and politics. D.J. called "fat" yet again, placing his weight close to 300. Right again.

This went on for the next half hour or so, callers interspersed ironically between The Pussycat Dolls and Rihanna, and the D.J. was right every time except one. And that was because the woman caller had a harsh smoker's rasp. Apparently smoking makes you sound fat.

As for myself, I found myself guessing along although I wasn't able to guess an actual weight. So, temporarily putting aside the ethics of making fat people into a radio bit, now I have to know: any other voice savants out there? Can you tell if someone is overweight just from talking to them on the phone? Underweight? Bad at Sudoku?