I’m sure you’ve heard the term BMI, which stands for Body Mass Index. It’s an estimate of how much fat a person has. But when it comes to Body Mass Index-Why Worry?
Well, for starters, your BMI tells you how much body fat you have, in relation to how much you weigh. So, it’s important to learn what your specific number means for your health, whether you’re a man or a woman.
BMI is calculated by dividing a person’s weight in kilograms by his or her height in square meters and varies depending on several factors including sex and age.
But don’t worry about crunching the numbers yourself. There are many calculators online that will do that for you. Here is my favorite:
Once you’ve done that, here’s what your number means:
- less than 18.5 = underweight
- 18.5–24.9 = normal weight
- 25–29.9 = overweight
- 30 or higher = obese
**Morbid obesity (as opposed to “obesity” is defined as being more than 100 pounds over your ideal weight, or having a BMI of 35 or more with an obesity-related condition such as high blood pressure or Type 2 Diabetes.
Being morbidly obese places people at much higher risk for health problems than being “slightly overweight” or “obese.”
Although BMI has been a popular tool because it’s so easy to use, there’s also a downside: It can give you an oversimplified view of your health.
The BMI formula is universal — it’s the same for both adults and children (though the numbers are interpreted differently for young people because gender and age are factored in).
Among adults, BMI is interpreted the same way for both men and women. However, as noted by the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there are a few differences among certain demographics when it comes to body fat:
- Women usually have more body fat than men. Women should aim for 20 to 21 percent body fat, while men should have between 13 and 17 percent.
- Black Americans usually have less body fat than whites, and Asians typically have more than white people.
- Older people generally have more body fat than younger people.
- Athletes usually have less than non-athletes.
Calculating BMI correctly is particularly troublesome for older people because it doesn’t account for the fact that many people get shorter as they age. This can skew the numbers which can lead to underestimating fatness.
Another reason BMI can incorrectly estimate fatness among seniors is that as people age, fat mass usually replaces fat-free mass, which we know as muscle.
- So…while the BMI of an older adult may seem normal, by the numbers, he or she could have a high body fat percentage.
Researchers call this “normal-weight obesity,” which puts people at an increased risk for metabolic syndrome and a variety of cardiovascular issues.
But, in the end, why does having a healthy BMI matter? Isn’t it just another number to keep track of?
BMI can be useful in telling you whether you’re at a healthy weight and clues you in when you may be at risk for various health conditions because your BMI has fallen outside the normal range.
For instance, a BMI of 30 or higher means you qualify as obese, which can lead to:
- High blood pressure
- High cholesterol
- Heart disease
- Type 2 diabetes
- Body pain
Many issues are cause for concern when it comes to BMI.
➡ As your BMI goes up, you start developing problems with fat accumulation.
➡ Then comes joint problems, sleep apnea, acid reflux, all of which are directly related to just “mass.”
But there’s another side to the story.
Being underweight (with a BMI of less than 18.5) presents its own set of challenges.
As with most tools, measuring BMI in adults has its problems. It is not a perfect metric and should only be used as a preliminary tool to find if you’re at a healthy weight overall.
➡ However, BMI doesn’t identify body fat composition (what it’s made of), body fat distribution (where you carry it has a lot to do with the risks) or issues with your metabolism.
➡ For example, using the standard BMI measure, athletes may qualify as obese. This is due to the fact that they’re muscular, and muscle is denser than fat.
So…the moral of the story is, don’t panic if your BMI indicates that you’re overweight or obese, but do take it as a hint that it’s time to see a physician for a more thorough assessment.
The CDC suggests measuring your waist circumference as another way to estimate your risk of developing weight-related health conditions, such as Type 2 Diabetes, high blood pressure, and Coronary Artery Disease.
➡ To measure yours, place a measuring tape right above your hip bones. Keep it snug but not too tight, and take the measurement right after you exhale.
- A circumference larger than 35 inches for women and 40 inches for men indicates you’re at an unhealthy level.
Lose weight, get healthy, whether you’re overweight or obese.
Jumping from a high BMI to a lower, healthier number can seem intimidating and even scary, but losing just 5 to 10 percent of your body weight has been shown to counter the negative side effects and improve your blood pressure, blood cholesterol, and blood sugar — even if you still fall into the obese category post weight loss, according to the CDC.
Read what they have to say here.
There is no one-size-fits-all solution to weight loss, which is why it’s best to consult a Registered Dietician, a Certified Diabetes Educator or your physician if they have the training in weight management.
But see our articles listed under Fit For Life/Weight Loss on the right-hand side of any page for guidance, and look for an upcoming article on Shortcuts To Weight Loss-Keeping It Simple.
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