BMI Inaccurate Health Measure for Gym Rats with Muscle

A recent Jane Brody article for the NYTimes reminds us that BMI is imperfect and only a crude measure of fatness in individuals. The biggest challenge of BMI standards is their inability to measure fat against lean muscle.

A woman can get back in the gym at 50, transforming her body out of fatty tissue and into weight-exercising muscle and still have the same BMI. Because a pound of fat takes up four times the fat of muscle, her body can change significantly — appearing toned, defined and smaller — but her weight has remained the same.

“The B.M.I. tables are excellent for identifying obesity and body fat in large populations, but they are far less reliable for determining fatness in individuals,” explained Dr. Carl Lavie, a cardiologist at the Ochsner Heart and Vascular Institute in New Orleans. via NYTimes

Degrees of body fat is a better measure of obesity and overall health. Both the World Health Organization and the National Institutes of Health define obesity as more than 25 percent body fat in men and more than 35 percent body fat in women.

Body fat can be measured with a caliper. (Anne has had it done.) A far easier at home method, one that acknowledges the particular danger of abdominal fat, is to calculate one’s waist-to-hip ratio. For men it should be no higher than 0.90, and for women no higher than 0.83.

One can also take a simple waist measurement. A man’s waist should measure no more than 40 inches and a woman’s waist no more than 35 inches.

Both aerobic exercise and weight training are necessary to maintain body functioning as we age. This reality is non-negotiable.

We previously wrote about the paradox that doctors believe a certain amount of fat is beneficial to patients fighting health-related illnesses. It’s one reason why the hourglass figure is considered beneficial for women. There is no solid medical evidence to support the argument that excessive fat isn’t a health hazzard, even though prominent bloggers are already jumping on the Jane Brody article saying that fat is now fine and BMI has no validity.

The truth is that BMI is but one measure of overall fat-health and it is particularly inaccurate for women and men who are active in the gym. This is not America’s problem, and we hate to watch people grab one more donut this morning, because BMI is not dismissed as an inaccurate predictor or health. Nor does the classic thin person who smokes dies of lung cancer make an argument for obesity.