Weight has long been considered the measure of health, but weight is only one small piece of the picture. Body Mass Index or BMI is a much better measurement because it considers your height and proportion. Understanding your BMI and what it means for your health can help you assess risk and make a plan to reduce it.
Importance of BMI
BMI is a calculation of body size using a person’s height and weight. It is defined by ranges of healthy and unhealthy that are used to help assess a person’s optimal weight and potential health risks. The easiest way to calculate your BMI is to use an online calculator that lets you plug in your current height and weight.
For adults, a healthy BMI is one that falls between 18.5-24.9. Lower is considered underweight and higher is overweight with over 30 being classified as obese. While BMI can be a helpful measurement, there are exceptions. BMI does not account for body mass due to muscle instead of fat, so weightlifters, bodybuilders, and other people with greater muscle mass will fall outside the healthy range but can still be in good health. Likewise, people who naturally have less muscle mass like someone with a physical disability or the elderly may have a skewed BMI.
Having low muscle mass does not automatically make these people unhealthy. People who are very tall or very short will have inaccurate readings, and BMI tends to overestimate body fat in people 4’11” and under and underestimate body fat in people 6’3” and taller. Ethnicity plays a role in the healthy range as well. For example, Asians and Indians tend to have higher a BMI because they generally have more body fat than people of European decent.
As you can see, BMI is a good starting point, but it is important to look at other measurements in addition to BMI to get a more accurate picture of body mass. A simple tape measure can tell you a lot about your health risks. Waist circumference is a helpful measurement because fat around the abdomen makes you more susceptible to obesity-related illnesses regardless of your weight.
If you want to get even more accurate in your assessment, measure your hips, too. Waist-to-hip ratio helps determine your risk of certain conditions based on your body type. An apple shape (waist-to-hip ratio of 0.85+ for women and 1.0+ for men) carries greater risk of heart disease and diabetes than a pear shape (waist-to-hip ratio lower than 0.81 for women and 0.96 for men). If you would like help calculating your waist-to-hip ratio, here is an online calculator. Another method of determining body fat is to measure it using calipers that pinch the excess skin in various part of the body.
There may be many methods to determining body fat and healthy weight, but the goal is the same—to reduce health risks. The risks of being overweight and having a high BMI are significant. In fact, a recent study in The Lancet Diabetes and Endocrinology
said that high BMI (above 25) is connected to most major diseases including cancer, respiratory illnesses, kidney problems, and cardiovascular disease. These people are more likely to develop chronic conditions such as type 2 diabetes and liver failure as well. Other problems like osteoarthritis can materialize as extra pressure is put on the joints. Mental health disorders have also shown to be more prevalent in obese people. The study above also showed that obesity lowered life expectancy by 3.5 years in women and 4.2 years in men.
The risks of being overweight are often discussed, but having a BMI that is too low also carries many health risks. The study in The Lancet journal also showed a link between low BMI and increased mortality. These deaths mainly occurred from dementia, Alzheimer’s, heart disease, and suicide. Other risks associated with being underweight include osteoporosis, digestive disease, and respiratory disease. Low BMI often causes low immune function, which can make you susceptible to a wide range of illness. It is important to note that BMI is not the only measure of health risk. Even if you fall inside the healthy range, factors like genetics and lifestyle contribute to the risk of many diseases. Be sure to include your doctor at The Woman’s Clinic in conversations about health risk and what your BMI is telling you. Our Healthy Me program may be the right fit for you if you need help lowering your BMI. At The Woman’s Clinic we can help you make a plan to lose weight and reduce risk. Make an appointment today at our Jackson or Madison location.