The Truth About BMI

The Truth About BMI

By: Molly Maczik

October 16th, 2022

This article is part of our Summer 2022 magazine. Click here to read the full edition.

The way social media has trained individuals to be insecure within their own bodies, while spreading false information about the health industry, has many  unaware of what the Body Mass Index was invented for.

Most tend to think  BMI is only used in health and fitness to track one’s body composition or to destroy self-confidence. The truth is, BMI was invented to give a quick and easy way to measure obesity in regards to the population and to assist the government in providing resources; but it is an inaccurate way to measure an individual’s overall health.

Lambert Adolphe Jacques Quetelet was the first person to apply statistical normal distributions to characteristics of the human population, now known asBMI. He had a variety of skills, but besides being the inventor of the BMI, he was also a founder  of sociology.

Consequently, obesity proceeds to be a socially developed sickness where individuals identify as sick due to their weight and the value of health, wellness and body image in today’s society. According to the Internal Journal of Obesity, children who were overweight between kindergarten and third grade had a great reduction in test scores and teacher ratings of social-behavioral outcomes.

The BMI formula was created in the early 19th century and is identified as the following: the weight in pounds multiplied by 703, and then divided by the height in inches squared. There is no physiological reason to square a person’s height.

Additionally, the BMI formula ignores waist size, which is an easy way to identify obesity. Some other essential aspects include bone, muscle and fat in the body, but the BMI scale doesn’t measure these things proportionally.

The absence of proportional measurement often leads to misinterpreted BMI readings in athletes and fit individuals. Athletes will often be labeled as obese or overweight since they are more likely to have strong bones, good muscle tone and low fat, causing them to have a high BMI. Someone having a high BMI doesn’t always mean they are overweight. 

Aisha Zahid of  Sky News said “The use of BMI inspires weight stigma, contributes to eating disorders and disrupts people’s body image and mental health.” 

Although most people who are fit are able to identify that they are not actually considered obese, using the BMI scale can be triggering to those with self-confidence issues. For younger generations, especially women and girls, hearing the word obese can cause them to develop an eating disorder. 

The BMI scale has four different categories: underweight, healthy, overweight and obese. Underweight is a BMI of less than 18.5, healthy is a BMI of 18.5 to less than 25, overweight is a BMI of 25.0 to less than 30 and obese is a BMI of 30.0 or higher.

The average BMI of a man is 26.6, and the average for a woman is 26.5.This scale puts both males and females in the overweight category because some simply have  greater muscle mass than others. 

When the doctor informs an individual  they are considered overweight or obese, it can cause many health issues for that individual. That person may look at their body differently and start to overthink the foods they are eating and the choices they are making. If the individual develops bulimia, anorexia or any other food-restricting eating disorder, it could cause serious harm to the body. 

For those who may actually be overweight and have developed underlying health conditions because of it, they may try extremely restrictive diets in response. These diets can also cause harm to the internal body, and in return, that individual may gain weight instead of losing it. When someone is in need of losing weight, it is important to proceed with a diet that is healthy and sustainable. 

According to Eating Disorder Hope, when someone’s BMI is low, that is a time to be concerned. Since BMI is a measurement of weight and height, there is an average weight  each height should be around for males and females. If an individual is falling behind, it can be a sign of undereating or other underlying health issues.

A low BMI could cause a potential risk of bone loss, hair loss, abnormal blood count and much more. There is now a machine called the InBody machine that does a complete analysis of the body; the analysis has five categories with around four subcategories in each category.

From measuring water mass to the leanness of a single arm, the amount of analyzed information is more than a sufficient amount to tell whether someone is obese or not. 

Whether one is considered to have a high or low BMI, health problems are likely to happen. One such health problem is being told they are either overweight or underweight the majority of the time. This is why BMI has become a very controversial subject in the health industry. 

BMI is very unreliable and does not measure the accurate body parts needed to decipher whether a person is considered overweight or not. Weight and height measurements alone are not enough to determine a person’s fat percentage. Body fat mass and dry lean mass are other key factors to recognize what weight class an individual falls under. 

The way BMI is measured now can be beneficial to doctors, especially to doctors of younger children, as it is a way of measuring growth in height and weight. It can also be used for adults in a similar way, but it should not be the key factor in interpreting if an individual is at risk of disease.

Although BMI can be beneficial in doctor’s offices to measure an individual’s weight and height, it should be avoided when measuring obesity. Alternatively, the InBody machine is an accurate way to measure obesity because it is more intricate. The more knowledge that is out there about BMI, the more one is able to control their relationship with food and themselves. 

Molly Maczik is a fourth year undergraduate majoring in professional and public writing. She currently works as an online fitness coach and hopes to continue her fitness business post-college while integrating the writing and editing techniques she has learned in the past 4 years. When she’s not at the gym, she likes to spend time with friends and family and be outside. You can follow her fitness account on Instagram @mgfiiit for all things fitness, nutrition, mindset and lifestyle.