As we head into the new year, you may be among the many people who choose to make a New Years Resolution. Often, these resolutions are health-focused: Losing weight, quitting smoking, and starting an exercise plan are among the most common ones. If you are looking to lose weight in the new year, you have probably heard of BMI (Body Mass Index) as a measure of health. But did you know that BMI doesn’t offer a full picture of your health? Read on for more about BMI and what it can and can’t tell you about your overall health.
What is BMI?
BMI was invented in the 1830’s by statistician, sociologist, and mathematician Lambert Adolphe Jacques Quetelet. It was known then as the Quetelet Index and was informed by Quetelet’s interest in finding “l’homme moyen,” or the average man. Since it is based on a male average from almost 200 years ago, many argue that it is outdated and inaccurate and does not account for the many factors that determine a person’s weight. Unfortunately, it is too often used as a standalone measure to decide whether a person is “healthy.”
BMI measures body fat percentage by dividing your weight in kilograms by your height in meters squared:
BMI = kg/m2
You can also use a handy online calculator like the one found on the CDC’s website to do the math for you. A “healthy” BMI is under 25; “Overweight” is 25-29.9, and “Obese” is over 30.
What are the limitations of using BMI to determine health?
While BMI can give you a general idea of how much body fat you carry, it is by no means a perfect measure. Here are some of its limitations:
BMI does not account for muscle mass
Since BMI only looks at weight and height, it cannot tell whether someone’s weight is due to fat or muscle. It is not uncommon for athletes with very little body fat to have a BMI over 25, even though by all other measures they are at a completely healthy weight.
BMI does not properly account for women or people of color
On average, healthy women carry more fat than men. Since BMI is based on a caucasian male average, women tend to fall outside of the “healthy” range more often than men. In addition, according to the CDC, people of Asian descent tend to have more body fat than white people at the same BMI; yet, for Black people, the opposite is true.
BMI does not always determine health risks
While diet and exercise will have an impact on body fat percentage, it is very possible to have high blood pressure, high cholesterol, low muscle mass, and excess body fat even if your BMI is within the “normal” range.
While BMI can be useful to give a general sense of how much body fat you have, it cannot give a full picture of your health. It is quite possible to be healthy when your BMI categorizes you as overweight. Conversely, having a “healthy” BMI does not mean you have a low risk of heart disease and other health problems. It is recommended that you visit your primary care provider for regular screening, including blood pressure, blood glucose, and cholesterol screenings.
Remember, Liberty Urgent Care does more than urgent care; we also offer a full range of primary care services. Feel free to contact us to learn more about our offerings!