The skinny on the Body Mass Index (BMI)
By M Parrott
Article ID: 137
Round up a group of ten-year-old children. Put each one on a scale. One third of those children are overweight. Expand your view, and you’ll see that 23% of school children are overweight. So says the British government. They also state that within four years, one out of three adults will be overweight. I’m not sure if this scare trend is common across all cultures, but let me tell you now it is bull. The problem here is that to make these weighty judgements, the government uses the Body Mass Index (also known as the BMI) which is so innately flawed that you might as well flip a coin on whether someone is obese or not.
What is the BMI (Body Mass Index)?
Let’s start with the BMI’s origin. A Belgian mathematician and sociologist named Adolphe Quetelet created the Body Mass Index between 1830 and 1850. He did this as a way to compare a person’s height with their weight. This technique was originally meant to aid in social science education, and wasn’t intended to determine obesity levels. BMI was not meant for medical diagnosis. So how can we use it to see if people are obese? If we’re analyzing a specific individual, we can’t! At least, not reliably.
Let’s consider the problem with using weight as an obesity measurement. You might be thinking, “well, of course your weight determines if you’re obese.” Not really. Muscle and bone density play a big part. Compare equal amounts of muscle and fat, and you’ll find the muscle weighs a lot more, at least four times more than fat. So a BMI label for someone with no fat but a lot of muscle will be obese. For example, Michael Jordan is obese according to the BMI and I guarantee he is a lot more fit than anyone reading this. I’m normal weight and Jordan is certainly in better shape than I. So here it is; if athletes are classed as obese then how can we possibly apply this formula to anyone? How can the BMI tell us if we are obese or not? (Yes, we can take additional factors into account like diet and exercise, but the BMI doesn’t do that.)
One of the key measurements of the Body Mass Index is weight. But weight isn’t even an accurate measurement of how healthy you are. Some health fanatics and personal trainers will tell you that there are no genetic factors behind being fat, but this is far from true. Consider the variation in ethnicities. Look at Viking descendents and Greek descendents and you’ll see a vast difference in structure. Those of Viking descendents are often higher than average weight; they have a larger bone structure. Greek descendents have a thinner bone structure and are in comparison generally lighter. So back to the BMI: why is one formula applied to everyone of every ethnicity if different ethnicities are genetically pre-disposed to be different weights?
If you’d like to see how morbidly obese you are – or are not – see this BMI calculator from the Center for Disease Control.
Diet and exercise are good for you. If you eat right you will be your natural, healthy weight. Yes, the BMI may label you as obese or over-weight. But so what? That’s the weight at which your body is healthiest.
Another detrimental part of the BMI is the social aspect. No matter what you look like, no matter how thin, fat, muscular, dimple-ridden, smooth skinned, pot holed or deformed: you’re still a good-looking piece of humanity. It doesn’t matter if you are the image of a greater being or the creation of self-directed chance. Humanity is a beautiful race. Live life however you want to live it. Don’t be bullied by anyone, especially the government or media, on how you should look. It’s your life; it’s your choice.