BMI Reality Check

September 24, 2016

Reality Film

I am one that goes for convenience rather than make something more difficult than it needs to be. We all know of the KISS principle and can surely understand the merits. I do, however, have a problem when a simplified model is starting to take over and even undermine common sense and intelligence. The BMI calculation has become just that.

A few years back I went for my annual checkup and was actually quite upbeat about the prospect. I’ve been working out five times a week and focused on losing some of the extra weight while improving overall fitness substantially. And the visit to the doctor did nothing to change my impressions. Almost every test and measurement was above average and he even commented that it is rare to see someone with my fitness level. He even suggested increasing my annual visits to every two years since there is no reason for concern. Glad that I aced the tests I started to get ready to leave when the blow to my groin was dealt. According to the doctor my BMI was too high and put me into the overweight category and for that reason I should try to lose weight.

Here was a person with intelligence that just ignored all the evidence and blindly followed a general guideline. It was clear to any human eye that I was muscular and well toned so body fat was not the problem. Needles to say, I never saw that doctor again.

I hope this article will give you some background about the advantages and disadvantages of the BMI and what are the real important factors to measure health risks.

What Is The BMI?

I’m not going to give a full explanation in this article. I think there are more than enough resources with valuable information. What I want to stress are the important factors that lead to its creation and how this was meant to be used.

The BMI was originally meant as a guideline to predict the percentage of body fat. It could then be used to evaluate the average health risk for a community. So, calculating the average BMI for a group will provide some indication of the health risk of that group. It was never meant to be a diagnostic tool for evaluating individual cases.

Individuals vary too much for the BMI to accurately predict body fat percentage. Large or small frame? Male or female? Young or old? Active or sedentary? All of these things and numerous other factors can have a significant impact on how well the BMI will be on an individual case. Unfortunately that is exactly what it has become today. Everybody young and old is using the BMI to assess their own risk. If you are female, and of average body build, and mostly sedentary, then the BMI might be close to accurate, but even then I would always recommend that other tests collaborate the findings before acting on them.

If you want more detail about the studies and articles, be sure to visit the BMI page on Wikipedia for more detail.

Is The BMI Without Merit?

Absolutely not. Even I have to admit that the BMI does serve a purpose and can be a good indicator, especially at the fringes. In the healthy to overweight category I would recommend more accurate measurements as a means of determining body fat percentage and associated health risks.

But in the very low and obese categories I would tend to agree that your health is at risk. Even professional athletes with low body fat has shown similar health risks when the BMI are in the obese range. Too much body fat is never a good idea, but too much muscle might prove just as risky. Underweight and obese individuals would do well to heed the advice and try to get closer to the normal range.

Quite frankly, even without the BMI, I’ve been well informed by the mirror when it is time to make a change. As good as the BMI is I think that the mirror might still be the best, budget friendly measurement to tell us there is a need to change.

Body Fat Percentage

So I recommend the BMI or mirror at the fringes to indicate that a change is necessary, but what about those in the normal to overweight range? Ultimately the BMI was meant to indicate body fat percentage. Although not a good indicator for the individual, there are some other alternatives that would not break your bank account. The method of choice is probably a good pair of body fat calipers. Calipers sold for home use are not as accurate as those used by an accredited caliper technician but are well worth the investment. The important thing to remember is that you use the same method and preferably the same person to take these measurements. Any variation in the type of measurement, the instrument being used, and the person administering it would make tracking results more difficult. It is all about measuring on regular intervals to gain an appreciation of progress.

One thing to remember is that some of these body fat measurements can become very expensive very quickly. Especially if you decide to make use of underwater weighing on a frequent basis. Even these expensive methods still are not without fault. In the end all these measurements are only one indicator of how well we are staying on track to reach our goals.

Common Sense Measurements

Most of these measurements have their advantages and disadvantages. If you consistently use the same measurement to track progress then you’re off to a good start. Don’t get disheartened with measurements way outside the normal range. Measurements tend to be less accurate when it is further away from the expected range.

Body fat percentage is used as an indicator of health risks. BMI is only one indicator and I can provide many a tale from skinny fat guys and gals that would acknowledge that looking good in your clothes is good, but looking great without clothes are even better. Don’t be blinded by all these measurements. Use the body scale and BMI to get into the normal to overweight range. Then use body calipers to more accurately assess body fat percentage. Increasing muscle mass while decreasing body fat percentage will go a long way in keeping you healthy and fit.

For the ultimate reality check, use the mirror to help you stay focused on the gold medal. Even your best friend would never be as brutal as the reflection staring back at you from the mirror. Use measurements to help track progress, but use the mirror to know when you’ve reached the goal.

Your friend in fitness and health,
Kobus

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