By: Regina Taylor
Body Mass Index (BMI) is a measurement that often holds great significance in how our bodies are perceived. Besides the way our own BMI helps us understand our health, physicians utilize BMI to assess risk for issues like diabetes and heart disease.
Being that it is simply the ratio of a person’s weight to their height – two variables important but not pivotal to understanding one’s health – how much faith should we truly put into this measurement? As someone who used to care a lot about the number on the scale and my own BMI, I find it important to consider three factors when thinking about the way we determine our health as it relates to BMI.
- BMI does not support a holistic interpretation of health or weight.
Healthcare and health improvement methods that center on weight as the main determinant of health is seen as following a weight-normative approach (Tylka, 2014). This typically views weight loss and disease prevention as directly related, which oversimplifies health and ignores important factors like genetics, diet, and lifestyle choices. Using this approach can also lead to increased stigma against individuals with higher weight, which comes with both social and emotional consequences (Tylka, 2014). Instead, a multidimensional, weight-inclusive approach should be used to increase overall wellbeing and access to healthcare. This approach also considers the physical, psychological, and behavioral conditions that affect one’s weight loss or gain, which is equally as important to their overall health (Tylka, 2014).
- BMI is not inclusive.
The cutoffs for BMI categories do not vary across age and gender- just another one of its several shortcomings. It’s not an inclusive measurement across race and ethnicity groups, either. In fact, BMI was created solely based on middle-aged European adults, and there has been significant evidence that it cannot be accurately applied across different racial backgrounds outside of this group (Norton, 2009). Because BMI doesn’t take into account whether weight is from muscle or fat, it can’t be seen as accurate across various genetic body types, further proving it should be less emphasizedwhen thinking of our health status and goals.
- BMI is more useful at assessing groups, rather than individuals.
Overall, the attractiveness in BMI as a standard of measurement stems from its convenience in measuring and modeling data on population health (Harvard, 2016). Simply put: it’s just really easy to calculate and looks nice in graphs, so it will probably continue to be used widely out of sheer convenience. BMI has served a lot of good for clinicians and public health officials whose jobs are to track and prevent obesity, too. On the other hand, using BMI as the primary measurement of health to assess people on an individual basis has the potential to cause harm and stick people into inaccurate categories.
It is important to never view weight and health as one-dimensional, and ignore all of the components like diet, activity level, genetics, and lifestyle that also affect them. Yes, BMI can be used to get a rough idea of one’s weight compared to their height; however, we should avoid seeing it as the gold standard for classifying health and risk for disease when it only takes into account those two variables. It is much more effective to understand your individual body type, eating habits, and lifestyle choices, and to use that to assess where you stand and where you can make positive changes. Once you take a more individualized approach to your physical fitness instead of comparing your qualities and progress to others, you give yourself room to reach more meaningful goals while truly understanding what it means to be healthy.
Harvard TH Chan. Why Use BMI? (2016, April 13). Retrieved January 21, 2021, from https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/obesity-prevention-source/obesity-definition/obesity-definition-full-story/
Norton, A. (2009, April 15). Racial bias seen in obesity measurement. Retrieved January 21, 2021, from https://www.reuters.com/article/us-racial-bias-obesity-measurement/racial-bias-seen-in-obesity-measurement-idUSTRE53E6WN20090415Tylka, T., Annunziato, R.,
Burgard, D., et al. (2014). The weight-inclusive versus weight-normative approach to health: Evaluating the evidence for prioritizing well-being over weight loss. Retrieved January 21, 2021, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4132299/