Wellness Culture

Stop Using the Body Mass Index as a Marker of Health

The Body Mass Index is almost 200 years old, doesn’t account for different body types, and is racist.

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Stop using the Body Mass Index as a marker of health!

The BMI is a simple formula: weight (kg) / height (m)2. That’s it. 

It doesn’t account for different body shapes and types. (This matters because, for example, some people’s bones weigh more than others even if they’re the same height.) 

It doesn’t distinguish between muscle and fat.

It doesn’t even account for the weight of a fetus you might be carrying. (When I was pregnant my OB gave me paperwork summarizing each visit. On it, my BMI rose for 9 months, ending with a number categorized as “obese.” They used the same BMI chart as the one for people who aren’t pregnant.

THE BMI IS RACIST

Using the Body Mass Index as a marker of health is inherently racist. It was designed for a white population and doesn’t account for differences across cultures and ethnicities.

The Body Mass Index system was developed by Belgian astronomer Lambert Adolphe Jacques Quetelet in the 1830s. Even he said not to use it to determine the health or the amount of fat on an individual!

Also, the amount of body fat someone has is not indicative of their health. People with a lot of body fat can be in great health and people with low body fat (or “ideal” by medicalized standards) can be in poor health. All of us operate with unique genetic sets, social contexts, lifestyle habits, environmental inputs, and goals.

THE IMPACT OF USING THE BODY MASS INDEX AS A MARKER OF HEALTH

Study after study shows us that obese patients get worse medical care. And many of us don’t seek medical care at all because we fear fat shaming from our healthcare providers.

I never use BMI in my functional nutrition practice.

It is time to:

  • Stop using the Body Mass Index
  • Stop focusing on body fat as a meaningful metric of a person’s health
  • Replace habits of shaming with a practice of compassion in all medical and healthcare contexts

NOW IT’S YOUR TURN!

Got stories you want to share? Don’t keep your stories to yourself. Good, bad, or somewhere in between, I think it’s useful to talk about the way our healthcare providers approach our bodies and our health. Drop a comment below!

REFERENCE

Humphreys S. (2010). The unethical use of BMI in contemporary general practice. The British journal of general practice : the journal of the Royal College of General Practitioners60(578), 696–697. https://doi.org/10.3399/bjgp10X515548

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I'm Michelle-Marie, your new call-it-like-I-see-it friend.

I'm a Certified Functional Nutrition Counselor, women's health advocate, and mom. After years of hacking my way through the chronic pain jungle, I was fed up with the deplorable state of women's healthcare. I founded We Get To Be Well to offer women a framework for lasting wellness.

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