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  • Cameron Oglesby

As a health predictor, how does BMI measure up?

Updated: Nov 14, 2021

Not very well, according to Lambert Adolphe Jacques Quetelet, the Belgian mathematician who devised the Body Mass Index in 1832.

Quetelet himself declared that he developed it to give a snapshot of a whole population’s overall health, to help governments determine where to allocate health resources – not to measure an individual person’s health, as is all-too-common medical practice today.

Assessing a person’s overall state of health based on BMI can ignore many important health factors which vary from one person to the next: age, sex, genetics, fat mass, fat distribution, muscle mass, and bone density, to name a few. It also ignores other, important, health measurements, such as cholesterol, blood sugar, heart rate, blood pressure, inflammation levels, lifestyle, and medical history.

For example:

  • Men have more muscle mass and less fat mass than women, but the exact same BMI calculation gets applied to both.

  • As a person ages, body fat mass increases and muscle mass declines. BMI makes no allowance for this.

  • According to a review of 72 studies, people with fat around their stomachs have a greater risk of chronic disease and significantly higher all-cause mortality risk than people whose fat accumulates around their hips and buttocks, but BMI measures only how much fat vs. height, not where it is.

  • Americans of Asian descent with lower BMIs (supposedly good) have higher health risks than Americans of European descent with higher BMIs (supposedly bad).

  • African Americans are often (mis)classified as overweight/obese because they have less fat mass and more muscle mass, which is denser. They’re healthier with higher BMIs compared with other races.

  • With a 32.88 BMI, a 250-pound, 6’3” NFL running back is medically classified as obese.

When doctors and other health providers focus on numbers rather than individuals, they shortchange their patients and jeopardize the quality of their healthcare – often to the extent of ignoring or incorrectly diagnosing health problems unrelated to weight.

When patients with high BMIs put off health checkups for fear of being judged, that can lead to delayed diagnoses and treatment.

With so many major health decisions, such as surgery, being based on BMI and weight, it’s important for health professionals to make sure their recommendations are based not on BMI, but on their patients.

Caring for people as individuals, and refusing to shoehorn them into one-size-fits-all categories, is a principle Senior Insights is built on.

We’ve always believed that caregiving has to go beyond physical needs and tasks, to address each client’s unique, individual emotional, cognitive, psychosocial and environmental needs as well. That’s why, before anything else, we conduct a thorough three-part needs assessment to determine what specific services a client needs – cooking, housekeeping, bathing and dressing, shopping, etc. Then, as a holistic full-service senior care agency, we’ll provide caring, experienced, reliable people to provide the exact kind of care that fits those individual needs and desires If you’d like to learn what a difference our person-centered, individual approach can make, please click here to contact us.

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