The BMI – The Health Barometer That Refuses to Die

Tonight on the news another international health study reveals that body weight is not only a determinant – or least correlative – of such ailments as heart failure, other cardio-vascular ailments, and diabetes, it is also connected to incidence of cancer.

And what do they trot out as means of determining the level of risk? The ol’ BMI (Body Mass Index), a statistical scale developed in the middle of the 19th freakin’ century. According to the study, anyone with a BMI of 25 or greater has a significantly increased risk of cancer and that an “ideal” BMI would be somewhere between 21 and 23.

I’m amazed that scientific studies still resurrect this as some sort of accurate measure of health and life expectancy. For those unfamiliar with the BMI, its primary appeal is that any lay person can calculate his/her relative health status with only two basic pieces of data: height and weight. I suppose that’s what makes it so appealing – its simplicity.

What’s my issue with the BMI? Well, besides the fact that its continued use suggests medicine hasn’t progressed enough to come up with a new measurement in over 150 years, the index ignores so many other factors. Is the person thin because he she smokes? … has anorexia? … is a crystal meth addict? It doesn’t matter, those folks are just fine according to the BMI. But the poor bugger who might have some muscle mass on his/her carcass is moribund and should start fine-tuning the will before the second foot slips into the grave.

OK, I have one other reason for detesting the BMI; it’s kind of personal. You see, if I plug in my height and weight into the BMI calculator, I come up with an index of 30.8, which, according to the BMI doesn’t put me in the overweight range. No siree. It places me firmly in the obese range. The CDC website, where I calculated my BMI, advised me to “Talk with your healthcare provider to determine appropriate ways to lose weight.”

Excuse me; that upsets me a little. I need to go to the fridge to get a snack.

One thought on “The BMI – The Health Barometer That Refuses to Die

  1. Actually low BMI is regarded as dangerous too, for the reasons you mention — ill people (and crack addicts) are frequently underweight.

    The BMI works ok as a population health measure, because there aren’t too many of you muscular athlete types.

    If you’re looking for an individual measure, try the waist-to-hip ratio. A simple waist measurement is almost as good for predicting health risks, and is easier to take.

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