Body Mass Index: Is it all it’s cracked up to be?

by on January 28th, 2010 at 7:00 am

Body Mass Index, or BMI, is a statistical measure that compares a person’s weight and height. A misconception about BMI is that it measures the percentage of body fat a person has, but this isn’t the case; it is actually used to estimate a healthy body weight based on a person’s height.

Even though I hadn’t heard about the BMI until I was well into my 20’s, this measurement has been around since the 1800’s. I first heard about Body Mass Index (BMI) about 6 years ago while being assigned a personal trainer (one of the perks of signing up to be a member at a particular gym), and was told they needed to measure my BMI. Well, let me tell you I was a little bewildered as to what to expect, but after a few quick measurements I was on my way to becoming a “healthier me”.

One problem with the BMI is that it doesn’t account for people with a high muscle mass, therefore leading to the question, is the BMI accurate? On a recent morning talk show, the topic was BMI and they calculated a woman’s BMI by the name of Sally. Sally was an active middle-aged woman and ate healthily; however, her BMI showed her as overweight. Sally listened to the personal trainers and started a new diet consisting of lean proteins plus fruits and veggies. At the end of 8 weeks, Sally’s BMI was down to a healthy number, though her body didn’t look any different.

This begs the question, are we as healthy as we think we are? Studies performed by the CDC have shown that there has been a dramatic increase in obesity over the past 20 years and BMI calculations have determined this. Many of the individuals used for these statistics have admitted to trying to live a healthier lifestyle when faced with potential conditions such as high cholesterol and diabetes, which are common for overweight individuals. However, for the CDC, they haven’t yet seen the statistical results needed to prove the U.S. is making a healthy change. The CDC defines obese as having a body mass index of 30 or more, but are there potential concerns with the accuracy of this measurement?

Some doctors love to talk BMI, while others aren’t so keen on the idea. Some doctors fear that the BMI overestimates obesity because it doesn’t account for a high muscle mass. Instead, some doctors like to use the waist to height ratio. Just like the BMI, it is still a calculation, but it is a lot easier to figure out. To use the waist to height ratio, you must know your height in inches and the inches of your waist. If the inches of your waist are less than half of your height in inches, supposedly you are fit as a fiddle.

When it comes down to it, the body is an amazing machine, but it is just that, a machine. Taking care of your body by exercising and eating right can extend health and longevity of the joints, bones, muscles and organs. Sometimes we think that we are healthy individuals and this isn’t necessarily the case. Consulting with your doctor to try to find out what is a healthy weight for you is key to accomplishing body mass goals.

Did you recently find out your BMI, how do you feel about the number you saw?

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