There is a lot to say on this subject, but I’ll try hard to stay on topic and not sound like I’m in a rage.
BMI (Body-Mass Index) has been a thorn in my side for some time now. It has caused many tears on the couch of my therapist, and many angry conversations and tantrums through the course of my recovery. I can still say that I don’t like BMI, but at least at this point I understand it and bogus it can be!
Let’s start with me: First, I am an athlete. I have always been an athlete and I hope to always be. I am a runner and a field hockey player. Because of my years of intense athletics, I have developed strong muscles. I am a muscular athlete. According to the BMI, I am probably in the overweight category right now. My muscle tissue from all the activity keeps my weight higher and it will constantly keep me in the overweight category. I have finally accepted this and there is nothing I can do about it. I like and need my strong muscles. I prefer them!
Now – let’s look at some hotties (without shirts on) of whom you may know.
Dwayne Johnson has a BMI, of 34.3. Which means, according to U.S. government standards, the Rock is obese.
His co-star Vin Diesel is overweight at 27.1.
If Johnson and Diesel aren’t the first guys you think of when you ponder America’s obesity problem, you can see the problem with the BMI, a ratio of weight to height, as a tool to judge an individual’s fitness or health risks.
So…. after much frustration and acceptance of my own BMI (and after many tears)…. I decided to do a lot of research to educate myself about how bogus this thing can be. Yes, my therapist said it to me a few times, but I think I needed to do the leg work on my own. So, I’ll break it down and save others the trouble 🙂
Background: The BMI was introduced in 1832 by a Belgian named Lambert Adolphe Jacques Quetelet. He was a mathematician, not a physician. He produced the formula to give a quick and easy way to measure the degree of obesity of the general population. It was created for a quick measure for allocation of resources. He said explicitly that it could not and should not be used to indicate the level of fatness in an individual. He observed that human weight “increases as a square of the height,” except during infancy and the adolescent growth spurt.
So why is his formula kind of dumb? It makes no allowance for the proportions of bone, muscle and fat in the body. A person with strong bones, good muscle tone, and low fat will have a high BMI. Thus, athletes and fit, health-conscious people who work out tend to find themselves classified as overweight or even obese. In addition, it ignores waist size, which is a clear indicator of obesity level.
So where did all these categories and “YOU’RE FAT” come from????? Because this guy didn’t say it.
1940’s: The focus on obesity and its complications for health started with the insurance industry in the mid-20th Century. Insurance companies published their first set of weight-for-height tables in 1942, and then updated it in 1959. The U.S. government started using BMI in 1980 to establish cutoffs for what was described as “ideal,” “desirable,” “suggested,” or “acceptable” weight. Go back and read that sentence again. They decided what weight and BMI was “good” or “bad” based on that formula made by a mathematician.
Now let’s apply this information to what do we know about humans? We are two basic genders, many different heights, several body types, many ethnicities and countless levels of activity. Each has a slightly different distribution of height and weight, but we are all graded on the same scale… to the decimal point. (But if you notice one decimal point is the sharp change from one category to the next!)
Here is the problem – BMI can’t distinguish between fat and lean tissue, nor can it distinguish between different types of fat.
We know the visceral fat, the type that accumulates around your organs, puts your health in danger. The fat women hold in their hips and thighs is linked to a lower risk of chronic health problems. So, the good fat and the bad fat get the same “bad name” here.
Also, muscle changes the whole game – it’s the wild card. The wild card that causes a lot of problems.
Remember our obese and overweight hotties at the top – The Rock and Vin Diesel? Muscle weighs more than fat… a lot more than fat!
Here is a great example of body composition. Weight and BMI can look very different depending upon diet and exercise.
The most obvious problem that we started with: People who are taller and/or more solid—like countless athletes or people into working out—are lumped in with people who are soft and sedentary.
Example: I went to a neurology appointment an a nurse, who should have seen in my chart that I’m recovering from Anorexia, told me that I’m overweight and should be worried about about obesity.
What I really wanted to do to her was this:
I realize now that she could not take into consideration my muscle mass. She had no idea that I eat healthy, run very regularly, and that I am a frequent flyer in hot yoga classes. She was basing my health on ONE component.
Where does everyone go from here?
- BMI isn’t going anywhere. Some doctors believe in it, and others understand how bogus it can be in certain cases.
- BMI is only ONE indicator of health. It is ONE small factor in a huge list of things taken into consideration.
- Being placed in a category does not make you who you are. Look at it rationally.
- The number that comes up on the scale means nothing if you are healthy and in a safe range.
- Doctors need a range for the many Americans who aren’t healthy (because so many aren’t). Be aware if you don’t fall into that category. Think about your bone structure, density, muscle mass etc.
- Your body has a set point that it wants to be no matter what that bogus formula says! As long as you are eating balanced and healthy it will fall into that set point and maintain.
If you want some more interesting reading …. as if this post isn’t long enough…. here is a cool link I found of a ton of people and their height and weight/BMI listed. Some will shock you!