Is BMI An Accurate Measure of Health?

BMI is a standard health assessment tool in most healthcare facilities. Though its been used for decades, it’s been highly criticized for its oversimplification of what it really means to be healthy.

What is BMI? 

BMI stands for body mass index. It was developed by Belgian mathematician Lambert Adolphe Jacques Quetelet in 1832. It was developed to quickly estimate the degree of obesity in a given population to help governments decide where to allocate health and financial resources. 

Ironically, Quetelet said BMI was not useful when studying single individuals but rather to give a snapshot of a population’s overall health. Nevertheless, it’s widely used to measure an individual’s health. 

The mathematical formula that BMI is based on is used by dividing a person’s weight in kilograms by their height in meters squared. It can be used also by dividing weight in pounds by height in inches squared times 703. The National Institute of Health (NIH) has an online BMI calculator you can use.

Is BMI A Good Indicator of Health?

Despite valid concerns that BMI doesn’t accurately identify if a person is healthy, it does show in most studies that a person’s risk of chronic disease and premature death increase when their BMI is lower than 18.5 (underweight) or above 30 (obese). Other studies show a BMI greater than 30 drastically increases your risk of chronic health issues, such as heart disease, kidney disease, breathing difficulties, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, and type two diabetes. 

Downsides of BMI

  • Doesn’t Consider Other Health Factors
  • Assumes All Weight is Equal
  • Doesn’t Consider Fat Distribution 
  • May Lead to Weight Bias 
  • May Not Be Relevant For All Populations 

Better Alternatives 

  • Waist Circumference
  • Body Fat Percentage 
  • Lab Tests 

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