Though one of the most popular tools used today to determine whether someone is at a healthy weight or not is the BMI, body fat and lean muscle tissue don't figure into the equation. This has led many experts to discount BMI as an archaic measurement that isn't accurate for many people. What is BMI, and why is it a good measure for some, maybe, and completely wrong for others?
BMI, or body mass index, was created in the early 1800s by Adolphe Quetelet. Because of that, it's sometimes called the Quetelet index. It's nothing more than a way of comparing a person's weight to his or her height, and determining if his or her weight falls into a healthy and normal range. The BMI is still used today pretty much as it was when Quetelet invented it.
The formula for figuring BMI (body fat, bone and frame size, muscle and body type aren't included in that) is this: Take your height in meters squared (your height times itself) and divide your weight in kilograms by that number. For example, if I'm 5 feet tall, that's about 1.5 meters. To square that number, take 1.5 times 1.5. The result of that is 2.5. So if I weigh 120 pounds, that's about 54.5 kilograms. Divide 54.5 by 2.5 and I get 21.8 as my BMI. The normal weight range is from 18.5 to 24.9, so 21.8 is classified as a normal weight. Underweight is considered 18.5 and below, while overweight people will calculate a BMI of 25 to 29.9. A BMI of 30 or greater indicates obesity.
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BMI, body fat and general health can all be used as signs of how fit a person is. But where general health is pretty self-explanatory and the percentage of body fat clearly shows whether a person gets enough exercise or not, BMI is a bit trickier.
People with a lot of muscle don't show accurate BMI readings. Because muscle weighs so much more than fat but takes up less space, a relatively small statured person can carry a lot of muscle weight without looking huge. BMI doesn't take that into account. Football players, professional wrestlers, bodybuilders, and virtually any athlete who has a lot of muscle is going to measure as overweight and even obese according to the BMI. So it's not accurate for them. Is it accurate for everyone else?
The answer to that is yes, and no. It depends on you. The BMI typically doesn't show an accurate result for children. And extremely tall or large-framed people will show overweight or obese classifications more easily because of the extra weight from their bones and muscles. So for very short, tall or muscular people, the BMI appears to not be a good tool.
There's also no distinguishing between men and women in the BMI. Body fat is more natural for women who are supposed to have more than men, so some sort of distinction in the measurement of the sexes would help the BMI's accuracy.