• Some experts say body mass index (BMI) is a good starting point for people to assess their overall health.
  • The best advice is to use BMI as a tool to determine if you need other tests. Or if you need to change your diet or exercise routine.

It’s a common practice for those focusing on weight and health. Clicking on an online tool to estimate your body mass index (BMI).

However, for a subset of the population, such as People of Color, and those of Asian origin. BMI outcomes, like those of many athletes, do not accurately represent your current fitness.

Nonetheless, obesity and weight-health researchers agree that BMI is a valuable data point for guiding patients’ overall care.

BMI Measurements

Dr. Caroline M. Apovian, co-director of the Center for Weight Management and Wellness at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, told Healthline, “BMI is a wonderful option for the public in general.” “However, it does break down in some people.”

For example, National Football League player Rob Gronkowski has a BMI of 30.6, which is considered obese. That’s because the BMI is unaware that he’s slim, tall, and has six-pack abs.

BMI can be off, too, in different ethnic groups Trusted Source that carry weight differently.

Some ethnicities, such as those of Asian origin, may experience type 2 diabetes symptoms at a lower BMI than the estimator chart would suggest. Obesity is an independent risk factor for type 2 diabetes.

Samantha DeCaro, PsyD, a licensed psychologist, and assistant clinical director at The Renfrew Center of Philadelphia who specializes in eating disorders, said that The BMI is an obsolete, racial, and discriminatory weight-to-height measure that was never meant to determine or diagnose an individual’s medical status,

“The BMI perpetuates the misconception that people with bigger bodies are always at risk for health conditions, while people with smaller bodies are not. As a result, the BMI harms everyone,” DeCaro told Healthline.

“The BMI perpetuates the misconception that people with bigger bodies are always at risk for health conditions, while people with smaller bodies are not. As a result, the BMI harms everyone,” DeCaro told Healthline.

The pros and cons

According to Apovian, when used as intended — as a screening tool rather than a diagnostic tool — the BMI remains a useful starting point.

she added, “The average citizen in the United States does not do a lot of physical exercises, but it’s a very positive metric for the average person,”.

So why are some pushing back against it?

According to Dr. Silvana Obici, chief of the endocrinology and metabolism division at Stony Brook University Renaissance School of Medicine in New York, prejudice can enter the equation when we hear our BMI or use a tool to review it on our own.

Obici told Healthline, “I think the problem is people only (checking it with a tool or program) on their own” and then making medical decisions based on that.

She claims that even the term “obese” causes bias and self-bias, which is why she is getting away from using it while still advising both patients and clinicians that the BMI “is a starting point for functional wellbeing” and not a diagnosis.

Using BMI measurements properly

BMI can help a medical professional decide what paths to pursue in checking a person’s health, Obici said.

“It’s only the tip of the iceberg, but it’s useful to start the conversation,” she said.

“The dilemma is that people expect this one marker (to measure their weight health), and it just does not exist,” said Dr. Holly Wyatt, a professor in the UAB Department of Nutrition Sciences, to Healthline. “Like another test, you cannot use it as a (decision driver) if you do not comprehend the rest of what is going on.”

“There’s a lot of weighty baggage,” Wyatt said. “It’s not like blood pressure or blood glucose. Weight-related issues will lead us down a road we don’t need to take.”

That is why, according to Wyatt, the safest thing a person can do about their BMI is to ask their medical provider how they should feel about their measurement and whether further testing is needed.

“BMI is a ‘risk factor stratifier,’” said Wyatt.

In other words, the care provider will use your BMI as a starting point for further tests (if necessary) and intervention (if necessary).

Is there anything that she’d like the universe to consider doing? Using BMI to determine weight or health goals.

“Losing weight is not about lowering the BMI below 25,” she said. “It is a (data point) rather than a goal.”

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