Does BMI score really indicate health?

BMI (Body mass index) has been used as a measurement of health within the medical industry for over 100 years. This tool is used in many countries across the globe and has propelled as an authority to make the judgement: healthy or sick. The critics are out on how much we can actually trust it, considering the detrimental effect it is having on our relationship with our bodies.

As with everything related to health and wellbeing, the benefits and drawbacks will vary from person to person. To understand where you stand knowledge is key. In this article we are going to delve into where BMI came from, how it catapulted into everyday medical practice AND how it works.

Let’s dive in.

What is BMI? Where did it come from?

To gain perspective on the positives and negative we must first look to how it works and where it originated. You are probably already somewhat familiar with the basics; however it is always worth reviewing.

blue tape measuring on clear glass square weighing scale
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

BMI is calculated body mass in Kilograms divided by height in meters squared (kg/m2). The resulting number is then compared to a chart of recommended measurements as follows:

Below 18.5Underweight
18.5 – 24.9Ideal
25.0 -29.9Overweight
30.0 and aboveMorbidly Obese

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BMI was first introduced by a mathematician in the early 19th century. It was way to find levels of obesity and famine in areas of the general population. This statistic would help the government to allocate resources. There was no intention to provide a measurement of overall health and wellbeing of an individual.

Think about it

BMI only started to become popular in medicine in the 1980s and heavily promoted in the late 1990s. Not all that long ago.

During that decade, BMI was seen to become more prevalent as the number of people with health issues related to excessive body fat started to increase. Medical professionals encouraged individuals to use BMI as a way to monitor their body fat. Although as we can see clearly for the equation for BMI it in fact measures of overall body mass. Still physicians saw this as a way to indicate and predict a patients health.

When is BMI useful in health management?

As we have seen above the BMI calculation is limited and was never intended as an indicator of health. However it is widely used around the world by physicians and health professionals as a tool to measure health. More accurately, it is simply an indicator of weight proportions. This can in some circumstances be a useful tool for motivation to those who have a substantial amount of excess body fat.

By the way this is not the same thing as someone with a high BMI. We will cover why in the next section.

Correlation shows a measurable goal such as weight or BMI has a great motivational drive towards fat loss. This measurement could be through a calculation such as BMI, but also:

  • Regular weight measurements
  • Regular waist circumference measurements
  • Fitness targets (improved running time/distance)
  • Calliper measurements

BMI as a fat loss motivator, although shown to be effective, is a shaming technique. This is something that on a mental wellbeing level needs to be treated carefully. Continued weighing and calculating to obtain BMI holds the risk of developing obsessive behaviours that can be detrimental to you overall wellbeing. If you are someone who may be susceptible to obsessive behaviours or self shaming, please seek out other methods of motivation for your health based goals.

Why the BMI calculation is flawed

We have covered a few of the issues with BMI and how it is used but it doesn’t stop there….

BMI measures all body mass. It does not take into consideration everything that makes us. Bone mass and muscle mass must be taken into consideration when making judgements about health through measurements of mass. Often with health goals, fat loss is seen as a priority. However, using total body mass measurements not only assumes all body mass is fat, but adds the misconception all fat is unhealthy. There multiple types of fat within our bodies, each with different purposes throughout our bodies.Yes, excess of fat is cause for concern, but it does not mean we should be striving for no body fat.

Acknowledging bone mass is also critical. Not only in observing true mass measurements BUT to spot early risks of poor bone density. Poor Bone density leads to a number of deteriorating bone diseases. When spotted early like most dis-ease are easier to stop and even reverse.

Muscle mass also need to be taken into consideration. As high muscle mass generally has positive health benefits, improving muscle mass is another common health goal. Yet many people with higher muscle mass, may fall into the category of over-weight and obese. This is due to muscle weighing more than fat. This means even with a lower body fat percentage, and an overall healthy body based on BMI an individual could fall into the category deemed as unhealthy.

How do we use this information?

In a nutshell; after personally looking at how flawed BMI measurements are and the affect it has on my clients relationships with their bodies; I have found the benefit does not out weigh the negatives. With this said, for quite some time now it has made sense to me not to use this and similar methods to help my clients through their goals. Instead of fixating on BMI, we focus on retuning to the body. Paying attention, to the little signs our body tells us everyday and honouring them with the care, love and attention it needs.

If this sound like the type of support you need whether through 1 on 1 coaching or through our group Restorative Wellbeing The Circle we are here to help!.

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Please be aware all information in this blog is based on my own personal experience and research, and I am not a medical professional. If you are needing advice about a medical condition, please seek advice from a medical professional.

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