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BMI Has Gone Awry

There are many ways to quantify a body. We weigh them. We measure their height and circumference. We determine the body fat composition. We use the Body Mass Index, aka BMI and this generic formula has been catching some flack lately.

This measurement is an unfortunately simplistic approach to measuring health. BMI is a mathematical formula that scales a person's weight to their height. The index also includes a range for optimal weights. The numbers below this range are considered underweight and the figures above the optimal range are considered overweight and obese. You might type in your stats, learn your BMI, and be appalled at your number.

If this has happened to you, you are not alone. Jezebel feels the same way and found a photo collection of women to help us all understand visually why BMI has gone awry. Kate Harding has put together a photo collection of women (you need to check it out!). Their stats are listed: weight, height and BMI. You will be surprised by the women that are considered overweight and obese. So take heart if you feel at odds with your BMI, there are other women out there who look like you and me!

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DCStar DCStar 8 years
I don't need to look at or comment on those photographs. The problem is BMI doesn't take into account your lean mass. If you are like me, 5'4 and 135 pounds, that's NORMAL but what if you were all muscle? Or what if you were all flab? It doesn't tell how much fat is on your body or anything important at all. It's antiquated and useless.
puddinpie puddinpie 8 years
I think that for the vast majority of people (i.e. excluding the very small percentage of body builders who have extremely low body fat and enormous amounts of muscle), the BMI is a good indicator of whether someone may be at a higher risk for diseases such as breast cancer. Since moving to America, I've noticed that many people have commented on how "tiny" I am, when I am within "normal" BMI standards and no one back home in Canada thinks I am particularly thin (rather, just healthy and fit.) I'm sure that's because carrying an extra 30-40 pounds seems "normal" down here. What I DON'T understand is how a lot of people exclaim that they would positively look "emaciated" if they go below, say, 150 lbs. I find that ridiculous, unless they're over 6'5" tall.
Mmmarshmallow Mmmarshmallow 8 years
Some of the images are accurate, some of them are not - particularly, Jessica, the triathlete, who according to the BMI is labelled as overweight. And while we can all waggle our fingers at people who 'hate' the BMI and say, 'You're misusing it!', the people who misuse the BMI are not just individuals, but corporations like insurance companies, who will refuse health insurance based on BMI alone. There was a case in New Zealand of a body builder who was refused health insurance because based on the BMI, he was obese, and despite him supplying extensive evidence that he was the picture of health, the company STILL refused to insure him because their healthcare policies were aligned only to the categories of the BMI. If those companies are using the BMI to a T and not treating it as the statistical approximation that it is, no wonder people hate it!
miz-vanessa-anne miz-vanessa-anne 8 years
Uh... I've been looking at a couple of the pictures, and all the ones I've seen seem accurate, all you need to do is take out the quotation marks. xD
yerrickc yerrickc 8 years
Accurate as far as I am concerned. Just because we're surrounded by obesity doesn't justify it's means or the fact that it's costing our health care system billions of dollars every year to combat what is soon surpassing smoking as the most preventable cause of disease in the United States.
Swangeese Swangeese 8 years
------------- Labels don't hurt nearly as much as an extra 5lbs does to your body. Healthcare providers give titles because that's what the person is. ------------ Oh please. My BMI is 28.5 which is nearly 'obese'. Now while I do carry about 15 or so extra pounds, I'm far from being overweight much less obese. My body is engineered to carry those extra pounds and the only way to remove them would be to exercise compulsively or plastic surgery. I'd rather be healthy and deal with a few body flaws than to try to mold my body into something it is not. Labels do hurt terribly even if a person is trying to help. People who are overweight or think they are generally don't have much in the self-esteem department. In college I went through a period of taking laxatives and fasting because I thought I was a fat cow (even though I wasn't). Of course the people gasping how extreme that is are probably currently doing Master Cleanse or some other equally unhealthy fad diet. So while people may think they are trying to help by calling someone 'overweight' or 'obese', they aren't. Fortunately I was able to reclaim my self-esteem and worth despite these 'helpers'. ---------- And to put your 5lbs in perspective: When you climb stairs the weight distributed on your knees is 7 times your weight. So that extra 5lbs is actually another 35lbs on your joints. ----------- If you don't wear proper footwear then you will have problems regardless of your weight. I'm a runner and have been running for over a year now and exercising regularly for almost three. The only time I have pain is when the cushioning on my shoes is beaten down and the shoes need to be replaced. Or when I wear shoes that do not support my flat feet. Unless you are morbidly obese, I don't see how a little extra weight would adversely affect your joints. The human body is a very resilient machine. I know a thin person in her 20's that has already had a hip replacement. Sometimes you get the short straw genetically even if you do everything else 'right'. So perhaps some of these overweight people just had crummy joints to begin with and losing weight wouldn't have helped. Unfortunately many people relfexively attribute fat to the cause of any health issues an overweight person has out of prejudice rather than science. ------------ Third point- thinking that the obesity epedemic is just going to fix itself is nieve. If Americans were capable/ knew how to eat a diet of fruits and vegtables and get a lot of Physical activity than there wouldn't be an epidemic to begin with. ----------- I think you mean naive. Nieve is a Spanish word for snow (sorry pet peeve :-)). Personally I don't appreciate people inserting themselves into my personal matters uninvited. When I was unfit, I didn't need someone to tell me that. I decided to start getting healthy on my own because I was sick of being exhausted after doing a simple activity. Just as you can't cure an addict with love, you can't eliminate obesity with shame. And a diet full of fruits and veggies, while good for you, isn't a magical cure to obesity either. There are many variables that factor into a person's weight. For me personally, I didn't really start losing weight until I started eating more calories a day. Currently I eat about 3,000 daily and easily maintain an almost 50 pound weight loss. I've discovered that most dieting 'wisdom' is bunk. Focusing on eating nutient rich foods and exercise to maintain a healthy body is more productive than focusing on weight. Healthy weights, like anything else, are individual.
beaglebuddy beaglebuddy 8 years
I must say that I'm a bit torn with the BMI controversy. I am 5'4", 155 pounds. I bike ride a minimum of 50 miles per week, and go to the gym at least 3 days a week. My gym workouts consist of 45 minutes of cardio, followed by 35-40 minutes of circuit training. My BMI says I'm overweight (at 26.6). While most say I don't look overweight, I know that I could stand to lose at about 10 pounds (putting me at the top of the normal BMI range of 24.9). I have a very healthy diet, rich in lean proteins, fruits and veggies. My cholesterol levels are low, as are my sugar levels. I can run 5 miles with absolutely no problem. In my case, I do think the BMI is a bit skewed. I have great muscle tone, but tend to carry a bit of extra fat on my upper thighs and butt - mostly due to genetics (HONESTLY!) - all the women in my family carry weight just the same. So am I fat or what?
tommyj tommyj 8 years
To everyone who "hates" BMI - you're misusing it! It's not meant to be all-encompassing or a reflection of your personal worth. It just gives you a quick and easily calculated metric that hopefully correlates well enough for what you are doing. It's not SUPPOSED to give you an indication of how fit you are. An example of a good use for it would be a study comparing a large population of soldiers who wear glasses with a large population who wears contacts. Hypothetically if you found a statistically significant disparity in BMI between the groups, you know something is going on and merits further study. It would be implausible to take caliper measurements even for a few thousand soldiers, that would be 90% of your budget. That's a good use of BMI. Eating more cheeseburgers because your BMI is 15.7 instead of 15.8 is a bad use.
Ericka Ericka 8 years
I have to say like most of the comments above, that overall they seemed pretty accurate. BMI is a tool and of course there are exceptions and when calculating your BMI (such as athletes with a lot of muscle mass).
Spectra Spectra 8 years
BMI got me into some serious health problems because my doctor used it to evaluate my weight. I am an endurance athlete and I noticed that my periods had stopped coming and I was constantly cold and my hair started falling out. I went to the doctor who weighed me and said that at 106 lbs at 5'3", I was "normal" according to BMI (18.8). HOWEVER, I had my body fat percentage calculated by my personal trainer using skinfold calipers (the method that's the most accurate for athletes). It came out to be 8%. Turns out, my body fat levels had dropped so low that I stopped producing sufficient estrogen. Women, even athletes, should NEVER go below 14% or so. Female bodybuilders sometimes get to 10% for competitions, but that is only for short amounts of time. But when I looked at some of those photos, I could definitely see BMI being at least somewhat accurate for most of the people on there. If you aren't extremely athletic, you can use BMI relatively safely. It's also a bit skewed for short people or tall people. If you're short, it's a lot harder to get down to a very low weight because you still have all the same "parts" as a tall person...your brain's the same size, your lungs, heart, organs, etc., are all the same size but they're squeezed into a smaller space. I had a roommate that was 6'3" and weighed 144 lbs...she was clearly "underweight" according to BMI, but she had the height on her side. And I have another friend who's only 4'7"...for her to ever get down to 100 lbs to put her in the "normal" range would require her to diet like crazy. So I admit, it works for most people, but there are a lot of exceptions as well.
maryamrose maryamrose 8 years
My BMI is bordering on overweight (at least I think so - I don't like scales) but I'm a size 4 at 5'3" with a low body fat percentage. Sure, some of those people actually looked obese and overweight, but some really didn't, and I was surprised. I never liked BMI. I love listening to my body, feeding it healthy food, and feeling the blood pumping through it when I run. That's more important than that number will ever be to me.
AucuneRancune AucuneRancune 8 years
I'm about to check out the photos, but I've always felt that BMI is a poor method of calculating body composition.
allisonblue allisonblue 8 years
syako, my comment re: dieting is something I've read on Harding's blog a few times; I'll try to go back through the archives or use Google and find the citation, and send it to you!
mindyandben mindyandben 8 years
I am in Kate's project, & I think it is wonderful. In the beginning, this photoessay was designed to show the cutoffs for normal, overweight, obese & morbidly obese. More people were willing to put their pictures up, and Kate thought it was a good representation of BMI & its ridiculousness. I am a person who has struggled with my weight (keep in mind my max weight has been 145 at 5'8"). I struggled with it because I felt like I had to look like every super model, actress, etc. to be beautiful. I am fairly thin (size 2), but even though I am "normal," I still get comments like "here, eat a donut, you need it." I find this hurtful, just like the women you are labeling "blobs" will feel hurt. Kate promotes "healthy at every size." By reading her blog, I have begun to feel more secure about my body. It has helped my self esteem. I know the average Fitsugar reader is a size 4 - perhaps realizing that you can be healthy (& beautiful) at any size will inspire some people to free themselves from the negative body images created by magazines, movies, etc. and realize that they don't need to be a size 4 to be beautiful. I know it has helped me. I have stopped being embarrassed by how thin and boyish I am and have embraced my body. Kate's message can be applied to everyone, not just the people labeled "obese" by BMI.
MsYuppieScum MsYuppieScum 8 years
I'm also pleasantly surprised that this project was mentioned, so way to go FitSugar.
designergirl designergirl 8 years
Oh, and FitSugar, I tried to use your calculator to calculate my BMI, but it wouldn't let me type in any numbers.
designergirl designergirl 8 years
Looked pretty accurate to me too. I fluctuate about 5 lbs, the lower making me underweight, the top making me normal. I don't think I look underweight at all, but whatever.
veronicaraye veronicaraye 8 years
i hate bmi!!
syako syako 8 years
Can you show me the research study for this?
allisonblue allisonblue 8 years
Statistically, most people who lose weight through dieting will gain it back; therefore, anyone who loses weight through dieting and keeps it off for 5+ years is not normal (STATISTICALLY not normal; that's not meant as a pejorative). Yo-yo dieting, from what I understand, can also affect a person's metabolism, which could cause a person not only to gain back lost weight, but to have a more difficult time losing it again.
Marle Marle 8 years
You can be overweight and healthy. I eat healthy (I love vegetables and I'm a vegetarian) and I work out 4-5 times a week and I'm overweight. It's not muscle either - I look like the overweight girls in the photo collection (and my belly jiggles, which is sad, but it's not going away). But I'm pretty healthy - the only health problem I have is my asthma, and I have that more under control than when I had a normal BMI. You can't look at someone's picture or their BMI and decide if they're healthy or what they eat or how much they exercise.
Ms-Meyer Ms-Meyer 8 years
I haven't always liked the idea of the BMI particularly because when you're strength training you gain muscle, which weighs more than fat, so I can under stand the argument. BUT, what I saw in those photos looked right to me. I agree with Historygal. I think obesity is such an epidemic in this country that our idea of what is an average "healthy" weight is skewed. Many of those women had so much body fat on them, that although they didn't necessarily look like the Michelin Man, they were obese. If you showed me a woman who eats healthy food choices, is active (exercising at least 3 times a week) and doesn't fit into her BMI, OK. I'll side with this argument. But many of those women in the photos just looked like they needed to drive past the McDonald's and straight to the gym. Sorry.
UrbanBohemian UrbanBohemian 8 years
I definitely don't factor BMI in with my health. The whole idea sounds like it works, but it actually doesn't seem to fit in at all.
Historygal3 Historygal3 8 years
Wow I just went back and looked at that blog and that's scary and dangerous. No one said you can't be fat and happy, but you sure can't be fat and healthy. Nobody is overweight and doesn't have health problems. Obesity isn't just cholesterol and hypertension it also causes joint pain, infertility, insomnia, and headaches. Being fat in America is normal, but that doesn't make it ok. That blog is a catalyst for making people think obesity is a social problem and not a health concern. Oh and I have helped patients succesfully lose over a 100lbs and keep it off for 5 years. It's my job and I take a lot of pride in it.
syako syako 8 years
Um, just reading through kate's comments policy and her fat acceptance spill, I'd rather not take part in her blog. Wow, talk about extreme! If I lose weight and keep it off for five years I'm "literally a freak of nature." Is she kidding? Diets don't work? Well then how the heck did I lose 28 pounds and keep it off for so long. Sounds like someone is bitter.
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