Do you know what your BMI is? The formula looks like this: BMI= weight (lb) / (height (in) x height (in)) x 703. Or, simply enter your info into this handy online calculator and — voila — the answer you’ve been searching for. Every magazine article, every daytime pseudo-intellectual interview, and now, every doctor suddenly needs to know: what is your BMI?
But just how indicative of our overall health and fitness level is this number, really?
The biggest problem with BMI is that the number is a very crude estimation based on weight and height. Period. It completely fails in adjusting for body composition. Now, this is just fine and dandy if we were all sedentary a la Wall-E humans, who never move their body beyond tapping their fat finger on a screen and sitting in a hovercraft all day. However, there are far too many of us who refuse their fate and find ourselves at the gym most days (sometimes even before the sun rises). Those of us who maintain a healthy amount of muscle will weigh more than our doughy counterparts, and our BMI will be higher- potentially high enough to classify us as overweight or obese.
Where this gets sticky, and even dangerous, is when our BMI dictates things like eligibility for health insurance, the rates we pay for health insurance, medical diagnoses, even job prospects. Employers are now being encouraged to hire below set BMI in the interest of keeping costs down and premiums low.
How did it get to this?
BMI, or Body Mass Index, was formulated by Belgian polymath Adolphe Quetelet sometime between 1830 and 1850. Quetelet’s calculation was intended to be a general measurement of trends with regards to large populations and their thickness or thinness. This calculation allowed for a more objective, non-confrontational worldwide discussion on the issue.
Ancel Keys brought BMI to its current popularity when he published a paper in the Journal of Chronic Diseases in 1972, where he explicitly noted that, while BMI is appropriate for population studies, it is inappropriate for individual diagnosis.
The only rational explanation for utter disregard to scientific proof and the continued importance placed on such a fickle calculation I can come up with is greed. A way to objectively deny people coverage, work, and proper care. I know someone personally who was denied sufficient health coverage due to this very topic. She wrote a letter (one hell of a letter, too – I might add) defending her hard work, impeccable eating habits and exemplary health reports from her doctor. You know what? It worked.
Fight back. Never accept the first answer you get. Be the squeaky wheel. And please, don’t judge yourself based on your BMI. There’s a lot more to it than that.
Jodilyn Stuart is the owner of ModaBody Fitness and has been a fitness professional since 1997. She currently contributes to 303 Magazine as a Fitness and Health writer. If you have questions, feel free to email at: [email protected]