The Problem with BMI

Body Mass Index (BMI) is used to categorize an individual into one of the following four categories: underweight, normal weight, overweight, or obese. BMI calculations use height and weight measurements to calculate a BMI number – high BMIs supposedly being an indicator of high levels of body fat. However, this calculation is flawed as it does not take into account body fat versus muscle weight in the calculation; therefore, people may be labeled as overweight or obese, yet they are actually athletic and healthy. One study even found that over half of individuals labeled as overweight by BMI actually had a healthy cardiometabolic profile and 1/3 of individuals labeled as “normal” had an unhealthy cardiometabolic profile.

Using this flawed system may be problematic, especially among adolescents and young adults, as many individuals already suffer from low body image and self-esteem due to pressure to fit the “ideal” body standard. One 8th grader, who had suffered from body image issues in the past, took a stand against an assignment where students were required to calculate and report their BMI to the class. Instead of completing the assignment, she wrote an inspiring essay describing why BMI is inappropriate and shouldn’t be used to label students’ health status.

Her essay goes on to say that:

“Ever since I can remember, I’ve been a “bigger girl,” and I’m completely fine with that; I’m strong and powerful. When you put a softball or a bat in my hand they are considered lethal weapons.”

She explains that she has had severe body image issues in the past – to the point where she wrapped her body to compress her fat so she would look skinnier. However, after visiting a doctor, he explained while she is a “bit overweight,” she is active and healthy and he is not at all worried about her health.

She concluded with this powerful sentiment that all young women and men should remember:

“I am just beginning to love my body, like I should, and I’m not going to let some outdated calculator and a middle school gym teacher tell me I’m obese, because I’m not.”

So remember, don’t let society tell you that your body makes you less than.

By Sarah London

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9 thoughts on “The Problem with BMI

  1. I completely agree. Sometimes it can be difficult to have self-esteem about anything, especially when feeling like society is judging us by the size of our bodies. Sometimes I am afraid to approach others because I’m fat. Sometimes I hesitate to wear certain clothes because I am fat. Since being fat is associated with being unhealthy (as if body shape is the only determining factor of health) others may see me as unhealthy. It has been a struggle trying to fit into the “ideal” body type, and at Tech, it became more difficult to love myself, because I noticed that a lot of people were skinny and “ideal”. Lately I have been learning that I don’t have to look a certain way. It’s a continual struggle, but I continue to fight on.

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  2. It is an inspiration to see an 8th grader reject the societal norm. BMI is such a black and white system of classification, when in reality weight in size are not a black and white subject. Maybe it is time the BMI system to be redesigned to be more of a true representation of body standards.

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  3. I’ve actually never thought about this topic until recently. I decided to calculate my own BMI, and the number actually told me that I was way underweight. Initially, this worried me and I started to keep track of my caloric intake to attempt to gain weight, but I started to realize that bodies differ person by person, and even ethnicity by ethnicity. So, yes, according to the numbers I am underweight. BUT. I eat well and exercise, and am overall healthy, so I don’t think that anyone should determine their health based on their BMI. There needs to stop being such an emphasis on calculating BMI and instead determining your health.

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  4. BMI and the emphasis placed on it in classrooms and health education is wildly inappropriate. It is flawed, as you said, and allows students to directly compare their fitness and weight to other students. Health and weight have so many different factors and this needs to be reflected in education and media, rather than focusing on numbers that give people anxiety and no real benefit.

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  5. This is definitely a large issue in society today. Especially with young women who are having a hard time accepting their bodies due to the stigma placed on “bigger girls”. It is critical to have people educated on health and have them learn that society’s definition of “skinny” may not be a healthy weight for every individual. Instead of conforming to have a model body, it is best to have a healthy body with a healthy mind.

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  6. This post makes me wonder why, to this day, we are still trying to find the right balance between size, weight, and health. Size and weight are static, instantaneous numerical values that we use to judge ourselves and other. Health is fluid, it’s a lifestyle choice and a daily routine. The problem comes when we take size and weight to be definite measures of health, which by nature, they cannot be. I’m all for being within a range of “healthy” size and weight but maybe we should figure out how to measure health, according to what a healthy lifestyles looks like for each individual. Someone at Tech should come up with that kind of BMI– Behavior and health Management Index. After all, we’re at Tech, we can do that!

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  7. Reading this post was quite eye-opening for me because I have never considered the point about how BMI calculations could be flawed for reasons such as not taking into account muscle versus fat. It’s difficult for me to say this, but I do admit that I had struggled with my body image at one point in my life, therefore, reading this was incredibly inspiring, especially the bravery and courage of the girl who refused to measure her BMI during her gym class. Most importantly, the significance of this post is that it points out the inaccuracy of the BMI system as well as how it should not completely define how an individual should be perceived.

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  8. This article addresses several important concerns with theBMI system. I believe it should really be a private matter, and only discussed in context with a trained medical professional. Hopefully in the future more effective methods can be used.

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  9. I wish I had this confidence as an 8th grader. There is definitely a problem with using BMI as an accurate representation of what is and is not healthy. Having someone tell you your BMI is in the obese range at a young age can have many negative effects including unhealthy eating habits and low self-confidence. Everyones body has a different healthy weight and a standard BMI test does not account for the individual.

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