Sometimes we like to change up the pace here on our company blog and write about some topics that are a little more focused on health and wellness. For this week’s blog post, we’re going to tackle the infamous “Body Mass Index” scale, and explain what a useless and outdated formula this truly is on so many different levels. The fact that some of today’s “experts” even recommend still using this formula to somehow calculate your level of health and fitness is truly appalling, and the quicker we can put an end to this misinformation the better.
The Body Mass Index (BMI) is defined as “a measure for human body shape based on an individual's weight and height”, according to Wikipedia. It was devised around 1830 (yes, almost 200 years ago) and as the definition states above, only uses HEIGHT and WEIGHT to calculate your health and fitness levels, nothing more. That being the case, let’s take a look at some very important factors it fails to consider: gender, age, body fat percentage, muscle mass, bone density, body type, activity level, diet, family history…just to name a few.
I suppose it would be one thing if this old formula was just a piece of history we looked back and laughed at, but unfortunately it isn’t. In fact, it’s recommended by none other than the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services for gauging your health to this very day. People seeking out the government’s help because they probably have no real education in health and fitness are being told that a BMI calculator is going to tell them what they need to know. Here’s an excerpt from our government’s official website on health and fitness:
So what’s the problem?
Using BMI as the “standard” measure for gauging fitness presents a very large problem, because almost all of the individual results are completely inaccurate due to a total lack of information. The reasons for the inaccuracies typically vary by gender, and create different problems for different reasons based on those outcomes.
For men, the results aren’t accurate or realistic because they tend to say you’re more out of shape than you actually are. Because it only takes height and weight into account, healthy and athletic men (due to their muscle mass) tend to register as “overweight” and/or “obese”. Just for fun, let’s take a look at a couple examples of what the BMI considers to be “overweight” and/or “obese” men.
Height: 6' 8"
BMI Rating: 27.9
Height: 6' 1"
BMI Rating: 31.1
I think we can agree that these people are well-accustomed to the inside of a gym, not to mention all the effort that goes into maintaining their rigorous diet and conditioning training. Without question they are extremely fit and healthy individuals, which clearly illustrates the BMI has some major flaws in reporting men’s results at a bare minimum.
But what about women’s results?
Women’s results tend to be skewed in the opposite direction, which is actually a whole lot scarier than the men’s scenario. In an interesting twist, the BMI tends to tell women they are healthier than they really are. In fact, a recent study revealed that 48% of women were misclassified as “normal” using the BMI, when in fact they were “overweight” and/or “obese” when formally tested by a physician. 48 percent!!
That is a frightening number, and clearly gives very inaccurate results to the people who need to be made most aware that they should make some healthier choices and start a diet and exercise program to better their health. Take a look at this excellent video clip below that illustrates exactly what we’re talking about in regards to the BMI and how it classifies women’s health:
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Because this test is strictly all about height and weight, the problems seem to stem from the old adage (not quite 1830 old…), “muscle weighs more than fat”. Men tend to carry more muscle mass, which increases their weight on the scale, therefore increasing the likelihood of a miscategorization as “overweight” or “obese”. Women on the other hand, tend to carry less. In fact, the less muscle mass one carries, the worse off from a health and fitness standpoint they probably are. So because women (and especially unhealthy women) tend to carry less, they tend to weigh less, increasing the likelihood of a miscategorization of an overweight or obese person of “normal” or “average”.
The bottom line, is that the only real way to determine one’s health and fitness level (men or women) is to measure their body fat percentage, which the BMI simply doesn’t do. As Dr. Eric Braverman stated in the video above, “BMI doesn’t tell you how much fat [or adiposity] you have. That is the predictor of heart disease, cancer, stroke, gall bladder and fertility problems, depression, anxiety, sleep disorder, etc.”.
The good news, is measuring your body fat percentage is relatively easy to do these days. In addition to walking into any gym in your area and having yourself tested, you can easily get these measurements in the privacy of your own home. Here’s a few easy ways to accomplish this:
- Skin Fold Calipers w/ a Free Online Calculator: Skin fold calipers are inexpensive (about $3) and are very accurate in measuring your body fat percentage when done correctly. You can use a free online calculator to do the math for you, in addition to showing you how and where to measure.
- Biometric Impedance Analysis: This technology comes with many new bathroom scales, and can also be found in handheld devices. It’s relatively inexpensive ($20 or so) to get your hands on, and obtains its results by sending a small electric charge through your body and back to the device. Muscle has a much higher water content than fat, making it much more conductive to electricity. The more resistance to the charge, the higher the body fat content. The accuracy is spotty at times, and although it sounds new and great, it’s still not quite as reliable as the good old calipers.
- Anthropometric Measurements: This is arguably the least accurate home method of the three, but is cheap and simple to administer. Simply grab a cloth measuring tape and measure yourself in several gender-specific locations. Throw those numbers into a free online calculator, and get a ballpark measurement of your body fat. The problem with this method however, is that the body fat isn’t directly measured. It’s an estimation at best.
With all of today’s research, technology and resources available to the general public via the internet, we really need to get away from using simple and outdated formulas like the BMI. It “over-corrects” for men’s health and fitness levels, labeling healthy men as “overweight” and “obese”. However, its most prevalent and fatal flaw is how it “under-corrects” for unhealthy women, giving false-negative results to overweight and obese women telling them they’re in the “normal” range. These test results are skewed in all directions, and for far too many people.
We all know (or should know) that the number one predictor of your overall health and fitness has nothing to do with your height or your weight, and everything to do with your body fat percentage, so spread the word! The BMI has GOT TO GO, and should immediately be replaced with educational resources leading to information and testing that is accurate and responsible for everyone regardless of age, gender, height or weight.
So let’s all ditch the BMI, grab some calipers, and get happy, healthy and fit for ourselves and for our families!
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