BMI is Bullshit! (for the most part)
Yup, I said it. Body Mass Index—or BMI as you may know it—is Bullshit.
You know the drill, you go to the doctor for your annual physical and one of the things they measure is BMI. You are given a number that is calculated from your height and weight, which according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), are direct measures of body fatness.(1) This number is supposed to give an indication of whether or not you are in a certain weight category such as: underweight, normal, healthy weight, overweight, and obese.
Pictured above is the BMI chart that is used for deciding what category you fall into. Unfortunately, for those of you who workout regularly—especially those of you who lift weights—this measurement tool often puts you in a category that is off base. BMI doesn’t account for many important factors, including a person’s activity level, bone density, or the lean muscle mass you carry. Let alone how you feel! (But ... that’s a whole other blog post.)
In my opinion, this is what makes this measurement tool "bullshit." Conversely, if you do not workout and you are in the beginning stages of incorporating exercise into your life, BMI can be okay to use. But after about 6 months of regular exercise and weight bearing activity, you should shift away from this measurement tool and focus on other things such as body fat percentage, waist-to-hip ratio, or girth measurements, which will be a better tell of your overall health and fitness.
A great person to use as an example of how wrong this way of measuring obesity is, is by looking at the singer/songwriter PINK (pictured above). After PINK had her second child, she had posted a comment with this photo on Instagram about this very topic. If you look at her, I would bet money on the fact that you wouldn’t say she was “overweight” or “obese.” I’ve always admired her for her strength—the woman is seriously strong AF! However, this 5’3” woman, weighing in at 160 lbs. was considered “overweight” and teetering close to be “obese!” Seriously? C’mon now...
Some male celebrities that have been considered to be “obese” are Arnold Schwarzenegger, Tom Cruise, Mel Gibson, Tony Romo, and Sylvester Stalone.(2) I’m pretty sure, once again, you would not consider any of these strong, fit men to be in an unhealthy weight category.
What bothers me about this measuring tool is that it is still being used and reported today, all while it really has little bearing on the truth. You can be completely in the “healthy weight” range, yet be malnourished, lead a sedentary lifestyle—not exercising at all, have an unhealthy body fat percentage, smoke, drink...you name it. But still, you fall into the “healthy range,” so you must be good then, right?
Then, on the flip side, you have someone who exercises regularly, lifts weights three or more times per week, has a low body fat percentage, eats whole foods most of the time, and they can be labeled as “overweight” or “obese.” It’s just not right. So, really, what’s the point of using this tool?
Are you reading this and wondering what sparked me to write this post?
Well, it was because of a conversation I had recently with an older gentleman in his 70s about nutrition and fitness.
The gentleman asked me what I weighed.
I confidently answered him, “147.”
His response was, “Oh...how tall are you?”
“5’7”, I responded back.
He then responds with, “So...on the chart then, you are overweight?”
Wait a second..what!?
This question really irked me. Not because it made me feel bad about myself, or that I thought that he was trying to say that I was overweight because that wasn’t the case at all. (Although there was a time in my life that I would have taken it personally.)
He did say to me, “You look great, but according to “the chart” you’d be overweight, right?”
My response, “No, I’m actually not overweight on the chart. Not to mention I have a lot of lean muscle. I’m perfect right where I am.”
It’s true, by “the chart,” I'm in the “healthy weight” category as I had said to him, but on the high end of it. So, I better not try to put any more muscle on...(insert sarcasm here)!
What bothered me about this conversation was that old school way of thinking, and how misinformed our society is on what a healthy person really IS or LOOKS like. And, it’s not all medical science’s fault, our society plays a huge part in this as well. Clearly, this gentleman isn’t the only one still referring to BMI as a way of measuring health and fitness.
This conversation made me think about how badly this tool could make some people feel if they were told they were “overweight” or “obese” based upon this chart, when in reality they are perfectly fine just the way they are. It could be totally detrimental to someone's well-being and self image.
So, my final thought is this...if you are eating healthy, exercising regularly, and you have a good self image, pay attention to THAT … screw BMI! Pay attention to the screenings that really matter and tell you something about your health more accurately, such as waist-to-hip-ratio, blood pressure, cholesterol levels, blood sugar levels, girth, body fat percentage, etc.
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1 https://www.cdc.gov/healthyweight/assessing/bmi/adult_bmi/index.html https://www.revelist.com/wellness/bmi-health-accuracy/10801/even-celebrities-think-its-bullshit/4 https://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=106268439