BMI bothering you? Might not be as bad as you think!
Dr. Renuka Dangare

Dr. Renuka Dangare

Apr 08General wellness

BMI bothering you? Might not be as bad as you think!

This blog has been compiled by Alipta Jena.

Body mass index (BMI) is a tool researchers often use to track obesity at the population level. Doctors and other healthcare professionals also use it to assess people’s health.

Adolphe Quetelet, a Belgian astronomer and statistician, developed BMI 180 years ago. However, BMI didn’t gain much popularity among researchers until epidemiologist Ancel Keys identified it as an effective way to track body fat proportions at a population level).

Some health organizations recommend that people stay within a certain BMI range to reduce their risk of disease.

Doubts over BMI

However, the medical community has raised concerns over using BMI as a measurement of obesity and health due to its significant limitations, particularly in assessing the health of Black and Hispanic people, among other populations.

BMI, which is based on the height and weight of a person, is an inaccurate measure of body fat content and does not take into account muscle mass, bone density, overall body composition, and racial and sex differences, say researchers from the Perelman School of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania.

In fact, many claim BMI is outdated, inaccurate, and shouldn’t be used in medical and fitness settings.

Using BMI as a marker of health is problematic for a number of reasons.

BMI fails to consider other aspects of health, such as age, sex, fat mass, muscle mass, race, genetics, and medical history. What’s more, using it as a sole predictor of health has been shown to increase weight bias and health inequities.

BMI does not distinguish between men and women. It’s a simple formula that uses height and weight to calculate a number meant to represent a person’s body fat levels

Even though some health professionals use BMI to categorize individuals based on body fat, it doesn’t actually take body fat or lean body mass into account. This means BMI doesn’t recognize the difference between muscle and fat.

For this reason, BMI might categorize someone with a very high percentage of muscle mass as having excess weight or obesity, even if they have low body fat levels.

It doesn’t indicate where fat is stored in the body. Therefore, it doesn’t account for variation in fat distribution between sexes or different body types. It also doesn’t consider the age-related decline in muscle mass.

The system may classify a small-framed person in a healthy BMI range, even if they have a significant amount of belly fat. However, this person may actually be at risk because belly fat is significantly linked to many chronic diseases and early death.

In other words, it’s possible that a person with a “healthy” BMI may actually be at significant risk of disease, surgical complications, and increased mortality (4).

BMI does not inherently distinguish between people of different genetic backgrounds.

White, Black, and Hispanic women are considered to be at a “healthy weight” when their BMI lies between 18.5 and 24.9.

However, women differ in body shape and body composition.

For example, research shows that Mexican American women tend to have a different body fat distribution than white or Black women. Additionally, Black women tend to have a higher amount of muscle mass than white or Mexican American women.

These differences between women of various ethnicities are based on data averaged over many people.

However, a person’s ethnicity does not determine their weight, body fat distribution, the proportion of muscle mass, waist circumference, or other body metrics. Every person is different.

This means that even if two women have the same BMI, they can have very different regional body fat distribution and muscle mass.

Studies have shown that healthcare professionals are more likely to misclassify Black women as having obesity because of their higher percentage of muscle mass.

Asian and South Asian women are in the overweight category when their BMI is 23–27.5 and are considered to have obesity when their BMI is over 27.5.

Healthcare for women

Health is multidimensional. There are many factors a person should consider when assessing their overall health and risk of disease.

Keep in mind that health is much more than body weight or body composition. To properly assess your overall health and well-being, a healthcare professional should consider many factors, including your blood test results, diet, activity levels, and sleep habits.

Along with BMI, a healthcare professional should also consider your dietary patterns, activity levels, genetics, sleep habits, mental health, stress, and socioeconomic status when assessing your physical and mental health.

For women, getting blood tested is extremely important when assessing health and risk of disease.

For this reason, women should regularly see a healthcare professional, who can recommend blood work, such as cholesterol testing, based on individual background and health status.

Disclaimer - This information is provided for educational purposes and should not be construed as medical advice. Please consult with your healthcare practitioners before undertaking any changes in your diet or adding supplements.

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