The Many Problems with BMI.

BMI is bullshit.

There. I said it. Let’s face it, this blog’s lifeblood is mainly disproving common myths and so-called ‘facts’ about obesity. Even I’ll admit that some of what I talk about can be a bit on the abstract side. But there’s nothing abstract or deniable about the fact that BMI simply doesn’t work. Keep reading to find out why!

BMI was created by a man with no medical background.

BMI was created by a Belgian man named Adolphe Quetelet. This fellow was many things. He was a mathematician, he was an astronomer, he was a sociologist. One thing he wasn’t? A doctor. He studied all sorts of things, however medicine was never one of them. And in fact, he said himself that BMI was only meant as a tool to used for large-scale diagnostic studies. It was never meant for individuals, nor was it meant to gauge health.

BMI tells you literally NOTHING about health.

BMI is an equation based on your height and weight. That’s it. That’s the whole shebang. Does it care about how much you exercise? Nope. Does it care whether you have a large/small frame? Nope. Does it take into account what percentage of your weight is muscle vs. fat? Nah, who needs that? I’ve heard story after story after story, people who go to the doctor and have perfect blood pressure, perfect cholesterol, are in otherwise great shape, but since their BMI is over a certain number, their doctor told them that they ‘need’ to lose weight.

BMI charts used to take things such as gender, frame size, and age into account. But no longer. Metropolitan Life insurance Company was the first to do away with this in the early 1900s, in order to be able to charge people higher premiums, a practice which is still very much alive today.

More and more medical experts are trying to take the focus off BMI and put it back onto things that actually contribute to the health of a person. But the fact remains that BMI dictates so much these days. It determines how much you’ll pay for insurance, whether you can take certain medications or are eligible for certain medical procedures, it’s a determining factor in whether you’re eligible for certain perks at more and more places of business, whether you can get into/stay in the military–the list goes on and on.

BMI definitions can be changed on a whim.

Have you guys ever seen this chart, or one similar?

Image

These charts are often used as a scare tactic to shock people into understanding how much FATTER America has gotten in recent years.

What these charts don’t tell you is that the definition of what constitues overweight/obese changed in 1998. That’s right. One night in June 1998, millions of Americans went to bed at a ‘normal’ weight, and woke up ‘overweight’ or ‘obese’ even though they hadn’t gained a single ounce. Of course, the rationale for this change was “because of studies linking extra weight to health problems.” Fascinating, however, considering people who are slightly ‘overweight’ are proven to live longer.

News outlets love to cry about how 2/3 of America is overweight! and how EVERYONE is fat these days! But this is all judged by BMI. And by BMI, this girl is ‘overweight’. So is this one. And this one. And this one is considered ‘obese’. And this one. And this one. Millions of Americans look like these people. (I didn’t even post any of the ones that are ‘morbidly obese’!) We’re led to believe that America is simply a sea of people who are 400lbs. It’s completely, totally inaccurate. The majority of the ‘obesity epidemic’ that America has are people who look like those pictures. Because BMI is so wildly inaccurate, so many people are considered above ‘normal’ weight and, quite simply, they’re not.

BMI is racist.

You may think this one is a stretch. Nope. BMI was created by a white guy to be used on white people. Never was it taken into account that people of different races and ethnicities are built differently, or that this could contribute negatively, labeling people as ‘underweight’ or ‘obese’ who, quite simply, aren’t. This article states that “because they also tend to have larger bones and denser muscles, some African Americans’ weight may inaccurately push them into the “obese” BMI category. The reverse appears true for certain other groups, whose overall weight may remain within normal range despite having a relatively high body fat percentage.”

Here’s another study about that!

BMI is cheap, and quite simply, too simple.

All BMI does is rely on a mathematical equation (which, by the way, doesn’t even make any logical sense. The equation is [height in inches X height in inches] X 703. What relevance does that have to anything? It doesn’t take bone mass, fat vs. muscle, diet, activity level, or anything else into count. And it’s free, which is an added bonus for medical and insurance companies. All you need is height, weight, and a BMI chart. It saves the money it would take to test factors such as cholesterol, blood sugar, triglyceride count, and so on and so forth. It’s lazy medicine.

I’ve said again and again. Whether a person is healthy or not is of no concern to me. A person’s health is private, and their own prerogative. But if health is your schtick, that’s super awesome–don’t judge your health by BMI! There’s a bazillion health and fitness tests out there that’ll tell you more about your physical health than BMI will. This is especially important the next time you go to your medical professional (doctor, gynecologist, whomever) and they pressure you to gain or lose weight just so you’ll fit better into their chart. Please advocate for yourself! Ask your doctor what else besides your BMI makes them think you need to gain/lose. Do not be afraid to ask for more tests. I feel the need to end this post with a reminder that it doesn’t matter how much you weigh or what your health is–everyone, EVERY body is entitled to thorough, respectful, judgment free healthcare.

Hopefully I’ve shed a little light on the fallacy that is BMI. Now go and spread the good word!

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11 Responses to The Many Problems with BMI.

  1. Pingback: What is Fat Acceptance? (sticky post!) | Adipose Activist

  2. Pingback: BMI BS | Fractured Ideals

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  4. Billy says:

    The article is great, except for one thing. You continue to spread the myth that muscle weighs more than fat and that is not true. A pound of muscle and a pound of fat are both still a pound, however muscle is denser than fat and therefore the pound of muscle takes up less space than the pound of fat. If you have an amount of muscle that is taking up the same amount of space as that pound of fat, than the total weight of that muscle will be more than the weight of the fat, but again that is simply due to the higher density of the muscle.

    • Adipose Activist says:

      hi there. thanks for the comment. could you please point out where I said that muscle weighs more than fat? I’m almost positive I didn’t actually mention it in this post, unless something I linked to states it? A problem with BMI is that it cannot tell how much of your weight is fat vs. muscle, but I never said that muscle weighs more than fat.

      • Billy says:

        Fifth sentence under the third heading, after the question about whether BMI cares about small/large frames.

      • Just pointing this out :) says:

        “Does it take into account that muscle weighs more than fat? ”
        It’s in the first paragraph after “BMI tells you literally NOTHING about health.”

        But one minor mistake doesn’t matter much – thanks for the great article. 🙂

  5. Right on with all of this. I had my first ever body composition test done in my fairly new struggle with diabetes. Unlike the simple and rather pointless BMI numbers, this told me what percentage of my body was muscle, what percentage was fat and what percentage was fluid.

    I was pretty shocked to discover that though I am overweight (a descriptor of my own choice,) I actually have an astounding amount of muscle mass – just slightly over what might be considered a healthy muscle weight goal for my gender, age and height. Now my fat weight was twice what might be considered healthful, but these numbers and a long conversation on understanding how these components of the human body interact with one another really gave me a perspective on my body and what it means to be fat that I never had before.

    No part of the discussion was about right or wrong or ‘best’ or ‘healthiest’. It was cold hard realistic data about *MY* body, and it was a revelation! The reality of my body is that I’m a 34 year old non-smoker who is reasonably active and has a pretty impressive amount of musculature who also happens to be fat, something tied to a variety of medical conditions (diabetes, hypogonadism, clinical depression).

    That’s a lot more insightful than “You’re BMI is 39.3 which is 9.3 higher than the minimum number to qualify as obese.” (Fun fact: in order to get my BMI under the ‘overweight’ range while maintaining my actual weight of 290, I would have to be 7 foot 7 inches tall. Good news for RuPaul!)

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