I just received a notice from my Son's high school informing me of his current BMI score. The BMI or "Body Mass Index" is given yearly to measure the height and weight of students to determine whether they have a healthy weight for their sex and age. I noticed that his score was in the higher percentiles, while bordering on being considered overweight. I thought something was wrong with the results. My Son is in perfect health. He eats healthy and exercises, including lifting weights. He has large muscles, very low body fat and has been developing a set of impressive six-pack abs. How could he be considered being heavy for his age. I decided to do a little investigating of my own, and came up with some startling facts.
I got on line and used a BMI calculator to check on my own rating. What? I have a BMI of 31.0? Something has to be wrong here. A rating over 30.0 is considered obese. Though I don't look like one of those male models in those underwear commercials I am in pretty good shape and seem to be far from obese. Lets take a look at my height and weight. I am 6-1 and 235 pounds. My current body fat is around 16% which is below the 19% which is average for men. I also eat healthy, walk at least 30 miles a week lift weights and take kick boxing classes three times a week. If you were to look at me you would see that I have very little visible fat. How could I be considered obese according to the BMI. I started to wonder what my ideal weight according to the scale would be. Take a look at the scale below.
Below 18.5 Underweight
18.5 – 24.9 Normal
25.0 – 29.9 Overweight
30.0 and Above Obese
Using the scale below I found that in order to been in the normal range between 18.5 and 24.9, my weight would need to be between 140 and 188 pounds. I can tell you right now that if I weighed 140 with my height and large frame I would look like an old picture of a concentration camp survivor. Even at 188 pounds at the high end I would be thin with limited lean muscle mass. Obviously there are some problems in using the BMI in determining what our healthy weight should be. If the BMI isn't perfect, why is it so widely used? Do you know that if you use the BMI scale that Brad Pitt and Lebron James are considered overweight? Have you seen Lebron James lately? We all wish that we could have a physique like Lebron James. It seems that almost every Doctor and government health organization is using the BMI to determine if we are overweight and have too much body fat. The reason the BMI is so popular is because it is simple, quick, and inexpensive.
The general rules for the BMI have been around for over a hundred years, but it's popularity dates back to a July 1972 edition of the "Journal of Chronic Diseases," written by Ancel Keys. In his article Mr. Keys stated at the time that the BMI was not a good determinant of the amount of body fat, obesity and general health. In his article he said and I quote: "The BMI is appropriate for population studies, but is inappropriate for individual diagnosis." The thing to remember is that the BMI is just one tool. It has it's place in determining health, but should be used only as an initial gauge. It seems kind of lazy to take a height and weight measurement, and then declare that you are fat and need to lose weight. The BMI was never supposed to be a medical diagnostic tool. it's purpose was to be a simple means of classifying sedentary or physically inactive individuals with an average body composition. As I said before the BMI is quick, simple, and inexpensive.
It should be noted that the BMI does not measure fat. In order to get a true measure of a person's percentage of body fat you need to use other methods, They include: underwater weighing, skin fold thickness measurements using calipers, bio electrical impedance (sending of electrical signals through the body to measure fat, lean muscle and water), and DEXA or dual energy x-ray absorptionometry (body is scanned by low-dose x-rays to read bone and tissue mass). These methods are very accurate, but they are also expensive and need trained personnel.
Remember that the BMI in itself is not a bad thing, but is just one tool and a starting point. If you have a BMI of 35 then you have to take a look at other factors. The problem with the BMI is that it doesn't take into account bone density, lean muscle mass, and varying proportions of fat, cartilage, and water weight. We've all seen men and women who have more muscle mass, or are big-boned and have large body frames .Their BMI results are often inaccurate. The same goes for athletes who tend to have higher BMI readings. The BMI continues to be the single most common method of measurement used to determine whether a person is overweight. Other things which should be looked at are; diet, waist circumference in relation to height, physical activity, blood pressure, blood sugar levels, cholesterol levels, and your families history of diseases. It should also be noted that when dealing with children and the elderly that the BMI doesn't take into account bone density which varies widely at these ages. A elderly person also loses height as they age. Their BMI could increase even though their weight stays the same.
In conclusion, remember again that the BMI is just one simple tool. It's use should be only as a guide. If you're strong and healthy, don't be upset if you plug in a BMI calculator and it says you are overweight or obese. On the other hand don't ignore it. Use it to do some investigating. We are all who we are. We all have are own needs and desires in terms of our health. Not all of us were meant to be ultra-thin marathon runners, just as all of us weren't meant to be huge and muscular. Be happy, be yourself, and most importantly; be healthy.