The focus around one’s BMI has started to shift. In earlier years, doctors have encouraged their patients to follow diets, exercise routines, and lifestyle choices based purely on that person’s BMI—but does this still hold true today? Should I Worry About My BMI?
With the intersection of healthy living and the body positivity movement, many people are wondering where that leaves BMI measurements. Are they still relevant? Or is BMI a thing of the past? Below, we’ll look at what exactly BMI is, what it measures, and all of the implications (and limitations) that come with it.
What Is BMI?
BMI stands for body mass index. Essentially, BMI is meant to measure body fat based on the ratio between height and weight. BMI is most commonly used in medical settings, but also sometimes by people who are looking to assess whether or not they are at a weight that works for their specific health needs.
There are online calculators in which you can input your height and weight in order to get your BMI. Usually, there is a conversion chart that accompanies your results. This chart indicates whether you fall into the underweight, “normal” weight, or overweight categories specifically in reference to your BMI. The “normal” BMI ranges from 18.5 to 24.9 on the chart, whereas any “abnormal” BMI falls outside of that specific range.
Being underweight or overweight according to your BMI can have certain health repercussions, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), including:
- Vitamin deficiency
- Low or high blood pressure
- Chronic pain
- Higher risk for heart disease
- Higher risk for stroke
However, experts emphasize that calculating BMI can only predict so much. Moreover, BMI is not a diagnostic tool, meaning that it cannot diagnose actual health concerns like the ones listed above. Instead, BMI should always be considered in the context of an individual’s specific experiences, potential symptoms, and health goals.
What Are BMI Limitations?
There are many limitations to calculating BMI, which might end up misleading people to believe they are at risk for certain health problems when, in reality, they are not. First, BMI only takes into consideration somebody’s base height and weight. This does not factor in the amount of fat versus muscle that a person might have.
So, for example, an athlete who does weight training can potentially have a high BMI that indicates being overweight on the BMI chart. But much of this weight can be attributed to muscle mass; therefore, just looking at their BMI on paper might suggest that the athlete is in danger of suffering from heart disease or a stroke when they are really in great shape. Simply put, the chart only calculates two sets of data (height and weight) rather than all other relevant and significant health information.
Secondly, BMI does not consider pre-existing health conditions that could leave somebody at a greater risk for complications. This means that a supposedly “normal” BMI would indicate that an individual is healthy, when there are more pressing issues than weight that should be considered. Furthermore, there are many other factors that could influence the accuracy of somebody’s BMI and how it relates to their actual health, such as:
- Activity level
- Body type
- Ethnicity and race
- Disability status
Lastly, studies show that having a fixation on your own BMI can actually be detrimental to your mental health. This is particularly true for people who struggle with eating disorders. In the case of an eating disorder, somebody might try to obtain a specific BMI that is actually not healthy for their specific body, mind, or emotional state. As a result, there could be dire or even fatal health consequences.
Mental health professionals actually recommend eliminating the use of body mass index as a screening tool in schools and medical settings because it could trigger an unhealthy emotional response from the person whose body is under examination. In place of BMI screening, there are alternative ways to evaluate whether or not you are meeting your health goals.
When it comes to weight-related health needs, many people in the medical field now recommend doing additional measurements such as weight-to-height ratio, which is similar to BMI but looks specifically at the circumference of the waist in comparison to somebody’s height. This is proven to be more reliable than BMI, especially when used alongside other tests, including resting heart rate or the heart’s beats per minute.
BMI: The Bottom Line
The fact of the matter is that BMI is only a starting point to learn more about your body, its needs, and your own relationship to your self-image. When taken out of context, BMI measurements can give an unreliable range of results that don’t factor in other important elements that could better portray the state of your health.
The most important thing to do if you’re curious about your BMI and what the results mean for your health is to speak with a trusted medical professional like a doctor or counselor. Be sure to give details of your medical history and any current health symptoms you might be having so that your doctor can look at the bigger picture. BMI is just one piece of the complex puzzle that makes up the human body and your own health journey—when in doubt, take a step back, listen to your body, and trust that you are worth more than just numbers on a chart.
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