Posted By Humphrey Bwayo Posted On


Times have changed, and every time I go for my routine morning run, it feels like my entire block is out with me, pushing their limits. More and more people are beginning to adopt healthy lifestyles, from being food cautious to adopting an active lifestyle. We have never been more ‘woke’ as a generation when it comes to living healthy, and it wouldn’t have gotten there if it wasn’t for media convergence! Props to every tech guy out there!

Adopting a healthy routine isn’t a walk in the park, and when you start this journey, you begin to understand it’s not the effort you put in that counts, but the discipline you develop over time.

Setting out on your fitness journey, one of the major concerns for most beginners is their BMI (Body Mass Index). BMI is a simple measure that is based on your weight and height. It’s used by health professionals to gauge if an individual has a healthy weight.

Here is an example of an Online BMI meter

The whole idea of BMI measure is a big argument in the world of health and fitness, ask any fitness instructor, and they will tell you its retro, and bogus in this day and time. This often leaves health-conscious people at a crossroads. On one hand, your gym and fitness instructor will tell you to stock up on proteins to build muscles; your nutritionist, on the other hand, will warn a high BMI could expose you to cardiovascular diseases.

Who’s right? Who’s wrong?

This got me thinking, how reliable are BMI readings?

The History of BMI

BMI was first introduced by a Belgian astronomer, statistician, and mathematician Lambert Adolphe Jacques Quetelet. The BMI measure estimates whether an individual has a healthy weight by dividing their weight (kg) by height(m2).

According to the formula, having a BMI of between 18.5 and 24.99 is considered healthy. A person with a BMI between 25 and 30 is deemed to be overweight. A BMI of over 30 is obese. However, it is important to note that this formula was devised explicitly in the 1830s to help their government in allocating resources but later adopted in the medical field.

Harvard health state, like most measures of health, it’s important to note that BMI is not a perfect test. For instance, the results could be inaccurate when an individual has high muscle mass or is pregnant. It’s also not the best measure of health for children or the elderly.

Why should I be worried about my BMI?

Ideally, if you have a high BMI, you have a higher risk of developing conditions that are linked with excessive weight, including:

  • Arthritis
  • Liver disease
  • Diabetes
  • High Cholesterol
  • Specific types of cancers
  • High blood pressure

WHO estimates that about three million people die annually due to obesity. Furthermore, individuals without any pre-existing health conditions with a higher BMI often report feeling better both physically and psychologically after shedding off excess weight.

Where does BMI Fall Short?

When people get into an argument about BMI, one of the reasons it falls short is because it is not capable of distinguishing between muscle mass and body fat. This is very important since a hunk of muscle mass weighs more than the same size as body fat.

How does this happen?

Take an example of a six-foot individual weighing who lives a sedentary lifestyle and weighs 203 pounds. This individual’s BMI will be around 27.  Compare that to a six feet tall athlete weighing 211 pounds. They will have a BMI of 28.

Based on the BMI meter, the athlete is more overweight compared to the sedentary individual. Remember, a hunk of muscle is about 18 percent more than the size of fat. The BMI reading here is not accurate.

Another area where BMI reading falls short is when used on the elderly. The elderly, over the years, have lost a lot of muscle and bone mass. Therefore, the BMI reading of a particular elderly person might read as standard, while they are actually overweight.

Should We Forget About BMI Altogether?

Probably. Recent studies confirm that BMI alone can not be used as a measure for metabolic health. Based on the data, more than half of the individuals considered overweight through BMI readings have a healthy cardiometabolic profile, which includes; blood sugar cholesterol and blood pressure. More than a quarter of those who were deemed to be normal on the BMI reading had unhealthy cardiometabolic profiles.

According to Harvard Health, using BMI as a single measure can not identify cardiovascular illnesses, and the same is true for blood sugar, cholesterol, and blood pressure as a single measure.

While an individual’s cardiovascular health is essential, it’s not a standalone measure of good health.

Waist to Height Ratio Measure is Better

A Former Science Director for the British Nutrition Foundation, Dr. Margaret Ashwell, states that the waist to height ratio is much better compared to the BMI when it comes to cardiovascular diseases or diabetes type 2.

Therefore, a six-feet tall man should make sure the circumference of their waist is 36-inches or less. A 5ft 4-inch woman, on the other hand, shouldn’t exceed 32 inches. According to Ashwell’s study, BMI reading can be inaccurate since it doesn’t take into account fat distribution throughout the body.

When an individual has abdominal fats, there us a high chance that their liver, heart, and kidney are affected compared to someone with fat on their hips and bottom. Based on this analysis, it is important to keep your waist circumference less than half your height.

Bottom line

BMI used as a single measure is not an accurate measure of good health. However, it can still be used as a starting point for issues that are more apparent when someone is overweight. All in all, it’s essential to know your BMI. But it’s still necessary to understand its limitations.


Dr. Margaret Ashwell Publications

Harvard Health


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