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Does BMI really matter?

September 1, 2022 biancabilloni

Does BMI really matter?

September 1, 2022 Bianca Billoni
A cartoon illustration of a Body Mass Index chart

BMI, also known as body mass index, has been used as a health measurement since the early 19th century. It uses a person’s weight and height to determine whether they should be considered healthy. Doctors most often use it to determine whether someone could be at risk for certain health conditions.

When it comes to finding BMI, it can be calculated in two ways. You can either take your weight in kilograms and divide it by your height in meters squared, or you can take your weight in pounds divided by your height in inches squared and multiply that number by 703. You can also find a BMI calculator online to do all the math for you.

From there, you will receive a number. The scale goes as follows: Underweight (< 18.5), Normal Weight (18.5 – 24.9), Overweight (25 – 29.9), and Obese (30+). This scale can determine whether someone might be at risk for chronic disease, but usually this calculation alone won’t tell the whole story of a person’s health.

When used alone, however, BMI does have its strengths. Many studies have shown when someone has a BMI either less than 18.5 or greater than 30, their risk for chronic disease increases. For those with a BMI above 30, their risk for type 2 diabetes, heart disease, breathing difficulties, kidney disease, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease and mobility issues increases. Because of this, doctors can usually depend on BMI for a reliable measure of general health.

While BMI can make accurate predictions, often there needs to be further testing to decide whether a person can be classified as healthy. First, BMI does not consider factors such as age, sex, race, genetics, fat mass, muscle mass or bone density. It also does not account for cholesterol, blood sugar, heart rate, blood pressure and inflammation levels, all factors that contribute to a person’s overall health.

To bring up fat and muscle mass again, these factors can be very crucial in deciding whether people of the same weight and height might have different levels of health. One pound of fat and one pound of muscle weigh the same, so BMI cannot tell the difference between the two. Theoretically, a bodybuilder and an overweight or obese person could have the same BMI, even though they may have very different health levels.

One common measure that can be used in tandem with BMI is body fat percentage. This measurement calculates the amount of fat in the body compared to the amount of lean mass. People have different ideal body fat percentages based on their sex and age. The average measurement would be between 21-32% for women and 12-24% for men. Body fat percentage can be measured in a multitude of ways. The most common and easily accessible option would be the use of skinfold calipers. You can either have a professional take this measurement, or you can do it yourself at home.

Other ways of measuring body fat percentage could be dual-energy x-ray absorptiometry, hydrostatic weighing, air displacement plethysmography, 3-D body scanners and bioelectrical impedance. Many of these options, while they have high accuracy rates, are not readily available to the public.

In general, health can be measured in many ways, and BMI should not be the only measurement a person uses to check their health. Along with height and weight, body fat percentage and circumference measurements can be great ways to measure health and track progress during a fitness journey. However, BMI can be used to show a general snapshot of a person’s health, which can be very useful for doctors who need to identify quickly if someone might have certain health conditions.

Other ways of measuring body fat percentage could be dual-energy x-ray absorptiometry, hydrostatic weighing, air displacement plethysmography, 3-D body scanners and bioelectrical impedance. Many of these options, while they have high accuracy rates, are not readily available to the public.

In general, health can be measured in many ways, and BMI should not be the only measurement a person uses to check their health. Along with height and weight, body fat percentage and circumference measurements can be great ways to measure health and track progress during a fitness journey.

However, BMI can be used to show a general snapshot of a person’s health, which can be very useful for doctors who need to identify quickly if someone might have certain health conditions.

Bianca Billoni

Bianca Billoni is working as a marketing intern this summer before finishing her undergraduate degree next year in journalism and music. When she's not writing stories, watching Disney movies, or trying a new at-home workout, you can find her spending time with her cats Artemis and Apollo.

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