The Truth About Body Mass Index

A Closer Look at BMI 

Body mass index (BMI), in simple terms, is an estimation of body fat that is calculated using your weight and height. BMI is used to determine whether someone has an acceptable weight, but many people believe the common misconception that there is a link between health and BMI. In fact, recent studies have shown that it isn’t a true indicator of a person’s health and may not even be as relevant as it once was.

BMI And Muscle 

The truth is, the accuracy of a person’s BMI in relation to their health varies greatly depending on circumstances. Take body builders, for example. Their weight isn’t just affected by body fat, it’s also affected by the amount of muscle, just as it would be for anyone.  This also includes metabolism, it’s different for most everyone.

If someone has more muscle than fat, their BMI would be higher than it might be if they didn’t have as much muscle. Someone who doesn’t carry as much muscle but carries more fat might have the same exact BMI. Therefore, the health of both individuals cannot be judged by their BMI.

“BMI is useful, but increasingly we’re seeing it has limitations,” University of Manitoba medicine and radiology professor William Leslie, who conducted a study on bone density and body fat in relation to early death, said. “Our study highlights some of the nuances around the assessment of body composition that tells us that BMI can lead us astray in some situations.”

Leslie said he isn’t against collecting BMI information on people, as it can be a good starting place for evaluating someone’s health, but the study ultimately determined that a person’s BMI just is not enough information to determine how healthy someone is.

Overweight Doesn’t Mean Unhealthy 

A recent UCLA study showed just how ineffective BMI can be when determining someone’s health. More often than not, BMI is used as a way to label someone unhealthy — but being overweight doesn’t always mean a person’s health is at risk.

“Many people see obesity as a death sentence,” the study’s lead author, A. Janet Tomiyama, said. “But the data show there are tens of millions of people who are overweight and obese and are perfectly healthy.” The results of the study showed that over 30 percent of people who showed a normal BMI (between 18.5 and 24.9) were considered unhealthy when other health data was examined.

The study also found that more than 2 million people who were considered obese just by having a BMI of 35 or higher were actually healthy.

“There are healthy people who could be penalized based on a faulty health measure, while the unhealthy people of normal weight will fly under the radar and won’t get charged more for their health insurance,” Tomiyama said. “Employers, policy makers and insurance companies should focus on actual health markers.”

Focus On Healthy Living 

The fact is, BMI just isn’t a totally accurate gauge of a person’s health. Of course, obesity can lead to health problems and can put a strain on the body if it weight gain continues. But there are more pressing factors that contribute to someone being considered unhealthy.

The most important thing to do is make healthy choices in your day-to-day life — both in the food you eat and the amount of activity you do. There are plenty of technically overweight people who live a completely healthy life, and there are people with “normal” BMI’s that have a much higher risk of diseases and other health problems. At the end of the day, start thinking less about losing weight and more about making healthy choices — it could be the difference between living a long, prosperous life and having some very serious problems down the road.

 

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