If you’ve ever given too much thought to your BMI (body mass index) number, you are not alone. Undeservingly, this measurement has become a tool used far too often by health care practitioners to discuss overall wellbeing. So, it makes sense if this number has ever left you feeling stressed!
That being said, there are quite a few reasons why relying too much on BMI is frankly, a flawed approach. Here are 4 things we want you to know about why your body mass index is not accurate.
That’s right. Body mass index wasn’t even created by a doctor or dietitian. A mathematician designed it in the 1800s to study populations and statistics. (Insert eyeroll here). Even the creator himself said it shouldn’t be used as an individual measure of health!
Flash forward to the 1940s when this math equation became a popular yet controversial tool. It was used in multiple settings from life insurance companies to group policy holders. Despite an underwhelming amount of research to support this, doctors followed suit in their individual healthcare appointments. This wasn’t because BMI was a great measure of health, just that there weren’t really any better options.
The mathematician who designed the BMI equation was a white Belgian man. Further, the population that he studied consisted of white, European men. No women, no people of color. As a result of this, BMI does a pretty terrible job at taking into account the different body shapes, frames and structures of these populations.
For example, body mass index tends to overestimate fatness and health risks for Black people. It also tends to underestimate health risks for those of Asian descent. Further, it also doesn’t account for women, whose bodies were designed to have a higher fat percentage for reproductive reasons.
BMI is simply a height to weight ratio. Because of this, it doesn’t take into consideration someone’s makeup of muscle, fat, fluid and skeletal mass. This can often lead to perfectly healthy people (like athletes who may have a higher amount of muscle mass) falling into the “overweight” or “obese” category.
When it comes down to it, body mass index is just a number. This number doesn’t show whether someone exercises, eats fruits or vegetables, has a disordered relationship with food, smokes, or drinks alcohol regularly.
It doesn’t account for behaviors of an individual at all and rather, gives a very limited glimpse into someone’s overall health story. Focusing too much on someone’s BMI without considering these other factors is not helpful. It may actually cause harm by triggering body image issues or neglecting to provide appropriate healthcare and screenings.