Some Thoughts On BMI

In the wake of a recent American Medical Association (AMA) statement clarifying the usage of Body Mass Index (BMI), the media has done their usual bit of either poorly explaining or outright misrepresenting the statement. For a thorough breakdown of the subject, the Barbell Medicine podcast did a great job of this, so I will not go into the detail that they did.

The usage of BMI has been a topic of some debate for a long time. The measurement is often dismissed as being imprecise or inaccurate, after all it’s just a calculation of height and weight — what about all those incredibly jacked bodybuilders? This is the most common rebuke of the measurement, that it classifies incredibly jacked individuals as obese.

For whatever reason, this critique is almost always offered up by someone who does not have this problem whatsoever. This also elides the fact that BMI is never used in isolation, and certain BMI values should prompt a physician to look at other data points (typically waist circumference) to eliminate false positives such as an extremely lean, in-shape individual. There are a number of BMI calculators available online, which also take waist measurement into consideration. For example, here are my results:

I’m 5’11, 210 pounds (181cm, 95kg) and I carry a fair amount of muscle mass along with a little bit of fat, so this result is right in line with what I would expect.

Waist circumference and BMI have thresholds which vary by gender and ethnicity, so the Fox News claim that BMI has been deemed “racist” is yet another fabrication from the deranged minds of right-wing media.

All told, this announcement did little to clarify the issue of BMI and its applicability, and likely just fueled more baseless skepticism. The utility of BMI and the correlation of high BMI with the metabolic syndrome is well established, despite what many members of the body positivity movement might want to believe. (How someone choose to address / ignore their obesity is a personal decision that I have no issue with beyond the refutation of incorrect information.)

Derek Avatar