Weighing In: Why Your BMI Means Nothing

From the time we entered grade school, we have been measured, pinched, and prodded in health class to assess our “BMI” or Body Mass Index.

The BMI calculation is as follows:

BMI= weight (lbs) x 703

Height^2 (in^2)

 Once you get your value, you are linked into several categories. Less than 18.5 is considered underweight, up to 24.9 is considered normal, up to 29.9 is considered overweight, and anything above that is considered obese.

While this calculation is a quick way for doctors to assess weight status, it also has many flaws. The most important factor it doesn’t take into account? The fat to muscle ratio. This means that even if you only had 8% body fat but weighed a lot more because of the amount of muscle you had, you could be considered obese because of your weight.

Valley talked to Dr. Jill Patterson, Ph.D., Nutrition professor here at Penn State, about her thoughts on BMI. When asked why she thinks people place such an emphasis on BMI she told Valley, “The news media. The fashion industry for 30-40 years now has emphasized the ideal image of particularly women (but also men) in terms of influencing self-image about what beauty is and what physically you SHOULD look like, as opposed to health.”

We then asked her if she believed BMI was the most effective way to assess health, she replied, “It is, because we have to have some type of standard. I realize health professionals need to have guidelines/quantification initially. The dream is to have them realize that BMI is just the beginning.” For many individuals, it could be an accurate assessment of health; but it does not take into account those who may have more muscle and less body fat. It may be a quick way to assess health, but it shouldn’t be the only way to assess health.

If you are trying to achieve a certain body weight, you must realize that genetically, you may just not be able to. You can’t change where your fat is distributed, the width of your hips, or your height. What you can change is your diet and exercise routine, and once you do this, your body will go to its natural, healthy weight. Do not rely on just a percentage to determine whether or not you are healthy. You have to first develop a healthy attitude and realize that you just can’t change genetics. Don’t place too much emphasis on BMI. Though it may mean something, it doesn’t mean everything.