By Devin Morrissey
We live in a standardized world and there’s very little doubt about it. Many people like norms and averages and sticking to the status quo. There’s nothing entirely wrong with that notion, but when that ideal is pushed on to others to accept and strive for, it is another matter entirely.
One of these ideals is the Body Mass Index (BMI). The BMI has been used as a standard of how healthy an individual is for years now. It doesn’t matter that each person is unique and therefore will have bodies of different shapes and sizes.
As long as you fall within a bracket of numbers for your height and weight, you’re healthy and good to go. However, if your BMI runs higher than those numbers, why aren’t you already on a treadmill?! At least, that’s what it feels like people are saying when your BMI doesn’t fit into their idea of health.
What if, though, the BMI has had it wrong all along? What if we’ve been trying to align with a standard that isn’t even accurate? Well, as it turns out, we have. Here are three reasons why.
1. The BMI Is Flawed
That’s right. A formula we’ve used for over a century isn’t even accurate. To put things in perspective, the BMI equation was devised by a mathematician named Lambert Adolphe Jacques Quetelet in the 1830s. First of all, being good at math doesn’t make you an expert on the human body.
Secondly, this formula was made almost 200 years ago. Two-hundred years! Although some mathematical principles will never change, you’d think a formula that claims to indicate how healthy a person is would have been a bit more scrutinized before it became a standard.
The BMI doesn’t take into account muscle weight, bone density, race, sex, and overall body composition. It skews the results of short and tall people into saying they’re actually thinner or more overweight than they actually are, respectively. In fact, according to one study, over 70 million Americans were incorrectly classified as healthy or unhealthy because of their BMI scores.
In Quetelet’s defense, he did not have the technology that’s available to us now and created an equation that made sense at the time. However, mathematicians even today find the measurement misleading. The formula is not complex enough to accurately state what a healthy weight is for an individual.
Even revisions to the BMI equation still do not produce perfect results. This is due to that fact that people have different body types and shapes from each other. It would take one heck of a formula to precisely account for all the variations of the human body that exist.
2. Bodily Differences in Ethnicity
Another thing BMI does not factor in is the ethnicity of a person. Due to the process of evolution, the human body adapted and changed to suit different climates and environments. These changes have led to the different body sizes and shapes we see today.
That being said, the ethnicity you are plays a role in your height and weight and has nothing to do with how much exercise you get or vegetables you eat. Your BMI score won’t reflect this. That’s why it’s so important for medical professionals to be culturally competent nowadays.
What’s healthy for you may look completely different to someone who’s halfway across the world. When nurses and doctors become more aware of these cultural differences, they’ll be better able to tell if your weight is healthy for your body type, no matter what your BMI says. Knowing the physiological differences of your ethnicity yourself will also help you determine your health needs as well.
3. Better Measures of Health
Lastly, we should get rid of the BMI because there are better measures of health out there. Partaking in disease prevention techniques is by far a better guage of whether or not you’re living a healthy lifestyle. How much you exercise and the food you eat are a more accurate indicator of where your health stands than any number on the BMI.
Other measures of health such as waist-to-height ratio is also showing promise in indicating early health risk factors such as heart disease. This is because fat accumulation around your abdomen is considered more dangerous than fat found in other parts of your body.
However, due to the natural variations found in different ethnicities, this measurement can be slightly skewed as well. For example, shorter people of North Asian or Indigenous descent may naturally have wider frames, but not be obese.
Another method medical professionals use is actually measuring the amount of fat in your body. Depending on your sex, a certain percentage of fat will indicate whether you’re thin, overweight, or obese. The bottom line is, there are better, more accurate forms of measurement than the BMI.
In the end, there is no one-size-fits all equation to accurately assess your health. A standard equation can’t accurately assess an unstandardized population. Instead of going by an almost 200 year old formula to determine our health, let’s dig into our cultural roots and discover the body types our ethnicities have given us.
Let’s measure our health by what we eat, how much we exercise, what our medical tests indicate as well as with more up-to-date methods of measurement. We may live in a standardized world, but we don’t live in standardized bodies. So let’s drop the BMI already and live healthy, unstandardized lives.
Devin considers himself a jack of all trades. He travels around the Pacific Northwest to learn more skills and better understand the world around him. You can find him more reliably on Twitter.