Your BMI Isn’t a Crystal Clear Picture of Your Health – Here’s Why

Your BMI can be a useful number, but it doesn't perfectly measure your health

You’ve probably heard the term BMI. It stands for Body Mass Index, and it’s a number that is calculated based only on your weight and height.

BMI charts are everywhere — in your doctor’s office, at gyms and fitness facilities, in health clubs, and just about every online health article you read! But as it turns out, it may not be the “perfect tool” for measuring your health. So why do we use it?

How is BMI Calculated?

This number is determined by a simple equation: weight in pounds divided by height in feet/inches. For example, a 5’6″ person weighing 200 pounds would  have a BMI of 32.3.

Once this number is calculated, it falls into one of four categories:

  • < 18.5 = Underweight
  • Between 18.5 – 24.9 = “Normal”
  • Between 25 and 29.9 = Overweight
  • > 30 = Has obesity

If a person’s BMI falls into one of the last two categories, it is recommended that they talk to a healthcare provider and take steps to address their weight and health.

The Advantages of BMI

Although we did say that BMI isn’t a perfect tool, that’s not to say it isn’t helpful. Many physicians use BMI as a starting point. If a patient has a high BMI, they MAY be at greater risk for developing weight-related health conditions like heart disease or type 2 diabetes. This number gives health professionals and patients a semi-useful ballpark number to have in mind.

The Drawbacks of BMI

On the flip side, no one can accurately determine a patient’s complete health status based on their BMI alone. There’s a lot more to the picture that we have to consider. BMI doesn’t tell you about other important factors affecting someone’s health such as your:

  • Body makeup (muscle vs fat)
  • Body type (apple vs pear shape)
  • Activity level
  • Age and ethnicity

It makes sense when you think about how each one of our bodies is different. For example, a football player with a lot of muscle and very little body fat may have a high BMI. We wouldn’t say this person has obesity. In contrast, someone who is very inactive may be in the “normal” BMI range but have lots of body fat. This person may not even look out of shape.

Alternative Tools for Measuring Weight

By now you know that BMI is a tool for assessing someone’s health as it relates to their weight. It’s not a perfect tool by any means, but it does provide a good baseline number.

Here are some additional tools you can use:

  • Waist size: Measure around your waist at the top of your hip bones. Ideally, men should keep their waist size no more than 39 or 40 inches, while women should stay below 35 inches.
  • Waist-to-height ratio: The goal is for your waist circumference to be less than half of your height. This may be more helpful than waist size alone.

For more information about measuring your weight and health, CLICK HERE.

The Bottom Line

BMI isn’t the magical indicator of your health, but it’s still useful in some respects. If you have concerns about your weight and its impact on your health, talk with a healthcare provider. He or she will be able to give you a better idea of your health status using additional tools like vital signs and blood work. You should be keeping tabs on this information anyway!

There’s one more important thing to note. If you’ve measured your BMI to find that it is high, but you have no adverse health conditions, you can still be at risk. Many chronic health conditions develop as a person ages. Therefore, you should be proactive with your health in all of life’s stages.

To learn more about BMI and weight, CLICK HERE.

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