BMI is BS

Uncategorized Jan 10, 2022

Most of us have been weighed at the doctor’s office. Some of us may have brought children to the doctor where they are weighed. It can be uncomfortable, and even stressful. Then, the doctor comes in and starts talking about the number on the scale, and another number known as BMI, or body mass index.

            What is this number? What does it mean that I’m a 19, or a 24, or a 31? Turns out, it might not mean that much in terms of your health.

            BMI is a number that combines weight and height using the formula BMI = kg/m^2. This number was thought to be useful since 100 pounds for a little kid is different than 100 pounds for a fully grown adult. The medical world has decided that certain BMI values are deemed a healthy weight [for height], and that values outside this range are less healthy, or may come with health risks. 

            Actually, however, BMI is not a good indicator of being at a healthy weight or not at a healthy weight. Here’s why:

  1. BMI uses weight in the equation, and weight doesn’t always mean fat. Weight differences are often due to differences in muscle mass or bone density. Using the flawed BMI system, a body builder could be classified as obese even if they have low body fat.
  2. BMI doesn’t account for fat distribution. Fat accumulation in certain areas of the body, such as the abdomen, holds different health risks than fat in other areas. But BMI can’t tell us where the weight is held.
  3. The person who invented BMI was a mathematician, Lambert Adolphe Jacques Quetelet He was not a doctor or an expert on health. He is even quoted as saying that BMI cannot and should not be used to indicate level of fatness in an individual.
  4. BMI didn’t begin to be used as a primary indicator of health until the 20th century, when insurance companies began using this data to charge policyholders. Insurance companies have perpetuated the use of BMI because it makes them money.

So why is BMI still being used so widely? In essence: it is easy.

It is easy to measure the height and weight of someone. It is harder to use other [more informative] measurements, like body composition or waist circumference.

However, any measure of body weight/size does not accurately reflect an individual’s health status and often lead to ineffective interventions rather than efforts that enhance health and wellness.

Hopefully, the BMI system is on its way out as more healthcare professionals recognize that health exists on a continuum that varies with time and circumstance for each individual. 

A number does not define you or your health. Not the number on the scale, not your pants size, and not your BMI.

Check out more about Size Diversity and the Health at Every Size approach at haescommunity.com and asdah.org!

XO, Team Temecula Dietitians 

 

 

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