In the morning as I shower I always listen to our local news radio station to hear the weather and traffic and get a general idea of what’s going on in the world. They also have a physician on staff who gives reports on the medical community, new news, discoveries and things of that sort.
The other morning the good Doctor was reporting on the inaccuracy of the BMI.
The BMI (Body Mass Index) is the commonly used scale that physicians and health insurance companies use to slot us all into the appropriately labeled box. All of us are classified as either underweight, normal, overweight, obese, morbidly obese or super morbidly obese. (I always wonder if those last ones get to wear shiny capes or not..?)
The BMI was devised in the 1800’s by a Belgian mathematician and sociologist named Lambert Adolphe Jacques Quetelet who was looking for a way to quantify the variables that effect people’s social interactions. Basically he created a formula for the math behind the obvious social point that the general public doesn’t really care for fat folk very much. He was not a medical doctor and in fact was not looking into people’s health at all when he did this work, he was just looking for a way to figure out how successful people would be socially in proportion to their body size.
As everyone knows by now it’s a really simple equation to perform. You simply take an individual's body weight and divide it by the square of his or her height. Easy peasy.
Here are the things the BMI does not take into account: percentage of body fat, bone density or muscle density. What does this mean? Basically that the BMI is a horrendously inefficient system by which to measure health, and by and large is completely meaningless. Just to give you an example: professional athletes will almost always show up on the BMI scale as overweight, obese or morbidly obese because muscle is crazy heavy and they have a lot of it. Body builders in particular skew way wrong on the scale, and although not everyone may like the way a bodybuilder looks they are generally viewed as healthy compared to the couch potato mass that comprises the rest of us.
Still don’t believe me? Check out this link below. This lady collected literally hundreds of photos of normal, everyday people who bravely submitted along with their photograph their weight and height so that they could be properly classified on the BMI scale. Pay particular attention to the ones classified as “overweight” and “obese”, since they quite literally blew my mind. Almost every single one of them looks like a normal, healthy person to me – but according to the American medical community, all of them should be smaller.
I classify as “morbidly obese” on the scale. Basically that means that whenever I die, it will probably be much earlier than it could have been because I’m so fat. I actually don’t argue that point, I know that I need to lose weight to improve my health. But according to the BMI in order to be “normal” and “healthy” I am going to have to shed about 60-70% of my current body weight. Realistically, after 30 years of chronic obesity, the only way that’s probably going to happen for me is via extreme measures such as surgery or being completely removed from my normal environment and placed in a weight loss facility. Since the BMI also fails to take into account the heavy skeletal structure and natural muscle mass gifted to me by my Highland forbearers, toward the end of a weight loss journey dictated by the BMI, I would probably need to start shedding muscle tissue into order to claw myself into the weight classification defined by the AMA as “healthy” for my height.
See the problem? I’m dense. (Go head, laugh. I’ll wait.) No matter how much weight I lose, I will always be built dense. I will always have calves that feel like rocks and shoulders like a load bearing pack animal.
So back to my morning shower… as I said, the Doc on news radio was in fact mentioning this morning about how it’s becoming acknowledged more and more in the medical community that the BMI just doesn’t work as a good scale by which to measure public health, and that new tests are being developed. This, as you may suspect, made me very happy.
He then stressed the point that in fact, what the BMI is failing to calculate the most is how extremely fat we all really are. It’s been going too easy on us all these years, we’re even FATTER than first suspected! He ended his report by stressing how important it is that more help be given to fat people to fight this growing (haha) American epidemic.
I’m all for help, but to be honest I’ve started looking over my shoulder a bit and wondering just when exactly the government run task force is going to show up at my front door to cart me off to fat prison, with a release date determined by my eventual adherence to proper human size regulations. What? I’m obviously a threat to the public health. It could happen.
Look… all I ask is that if you’re one of the majority of people who fall into either the “overweight” or “obese” categories on the BMI scale, please don’t beat yourself up. Please don’t even give it a second thought. That scale is outdated, overestimated, and has been an inefficient system by which to measure actual health since the day it was created. Hopefully soon, the medical community will officially catch up to that fact instead of just hinting about it in five minute blurbs on morning radio programs.