The real problem with BMI

We all know how unreliable the Body Mass Index (BMI) is for determining whether an individual is a healthy weight. Height and weight tell you nothing about body composition, so BMI calculations are essentially useless.

The thing is, people distort the meaninglessness of BMI both ways. Professional athletes with tons of muscle and 10% body fat can be classified as obese according to their BMI. But likewise, and much more problematic, BMI has actually been found to UNDER report obesity on a much larger scale. And as the American public gets fatter and fatter and less and less active, BMI becomes even less relevant.

So what?

I frequently hear people saying things like “Well, my BMI says I’m obese but everybody knows BMI can’t differentiate fat and muscle and I’ve got these really big legs from biking…” It’s irrelevance is now giving certain populations LESS incentive to do anything about their weight problems.

If I had a nickel for every person who claims their “ideal weight” (as determined by some chart) is unreasonable for their body type… well, I’d have a lot of nickels. Yes, bodies come in all shapes and sizes and it’s impossible to declare one ideal weight based on height that will fit for every person. But that said, the number of people who believe that they are inherently different than the norm, thus weight ranges don’t apply to them at all, is vastly disproportionate.

And the prevalence of the body mass index hasn’t helped.

The first step in correcting this is to help people get beyond the self-talk they’ve used to convince themselves that they can’t even get close to that “normal” weight range. Sure, if you’re 100 pounds overweight, it’s hard to imagine getting down to what a doctor or chart deems the “right” weight for you. It’s easier to tell yourself it’s your genes or you’ve got slow metabolism or that your set point is going to limit your weight loss efforts.

Part of the problem is that people actually seem to prefer putting themselves -their entire selves – in the “abnormal” category. It’s not just that their weight is abnormal, but that they themselves are abnormal and thus not at fault or capable of changing. But obesity isn’t a life sentence and most people actually are quite capable of losing weight, whether they are genetically predisposed to be heavy or not. I know when I was at my heaviest, it was easier to believe I just wasn’t like other people than it was to accept that my weight was within my control.

The good news is that with education and dedication, we can help people realize that they DO have the power to change their lives. It might not be easy, exactly, but it’s entirely possible for even the most obese person to lose weight and improve their health and quality of life. A BMI above 30, regardless of how meaningless it might appear to be, should at least be a wake up call that it’s time for a change. And when a personally is truly motivated, change IS possible and fit CAN happen.

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3 thoughts on “The real problem with BMI

  1. Great article, Jay, thanks for sharing! I’ll be passing this along to the Biggest Loser competitors at work that I’m coaching. 🙂

  2. If people consider themseves “abnormal” it gives them an excuse not to take responsibility for their choices and lifestyle…

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