Massive Limitations: Understanding the Body Mass Index

Dr. Christopher McGowan
June 11, 2021

Knowing that the scale, or the tape measure, is showing you a number you don’t like is easy, but how do you know whether your body weight poses a risk to your health? For children, growth charts and other forms of evaluation help us get a picture of what might be a healthy weight range. For adults, getting a baseline on normal body weight is more difficult. 

With more and more research showing the increased health concerns of obesity, it is good to know whether you are at risk or not. One of the many measurements used by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), National Institutes of Health (NIH), and others to determine your exposure to weight-related health risks is something called the body mass index, or BMI.

What is the Body Mass Index?

For good or ill, the BMI is one of the most heavily relied upon metrics in evaluating obesity and the health risks that come with it. This measurement is a simple one that relates a person’s body weight to their height. The formulas differ for metric or imperial measurements, but the resulting number is the same. Though this measurement is the same for all people, how the result is interpreted for adults and children changes. 

It is important to note that your age introduces a significant amount of variance into how your BMI is interpreted. Levels of risk associated with teen BMI numbers and those for older adults are different, as levels of physical activity and the amount of muscle mass you are able to maintain change throughout your life. 

Rather than specific numbers, BMI ranges are used to evaluate potential health risks. For adults, the following ranges are typically used:

Below 18.5: Underweight

18.5 – 24.9: Normal

25.0 – 29.9: Overweight

30.0 and above: Obese

Though it is merely a screening tool, the BMI is useful as an indicator of the likelihood you may be at risk of several other conditions. These can include some very serious and even life-threatening diseases such as:

  • diabetes
  • heart disease
  • gallstones
  • high cholesterol
  • high blood pressure
  • liver disease
  • osteoarthritis
  • stroke
  • breast, kidney, and colon cancers

Though the BMI is typically used to identify people who are overweight, having an extremely low BMI can indicate you might be at risk for conditions that show up in people who are underweight. Though less common among Americans, the following conditions are often associated with having a low BMI:

  • bone loss
  • decreased immune function
  • heart problems
  • iron deficiency anemia

Limits of the BMI

It is important to know what the BMI can tell you and what it can’t. Though having a high adult BMI is strongly correlated with a host of dangerous and deadly diseases and conditions, you should not take this one measurement of weight status as the full picture of your health. 

Identifying what someone’s normal weight should be is not as straightforward as looking at one number on a scale, or even simply using their BMI score. There are several different factors including age, genetic background, sex, and ethnicity that all influence how much you weigh. These factors all affect your body composition, or the ratio of lean muscle mass to body fat you carry.

Everyone carries weight differently, and what is normal for some people may not be for others. If you are in the upper end of the healthy weight range according to a BMI calculator, but have worked with your doctor to be sure that you aren’t in danger of cardiovascular disease or diabetes as a result of your lifestyle, then you may not have much reason for concern. For some people who naturally carry more weight, BMI may not be the most helpful metric. 

BMI ranges are proving to be more useful when paired with other screening techniques and health information such as waist circumference. Some people who carry larger amounts of muscle mass might end up with a high BMI result, but the density of muscle mass increases a person’s weight without contributing to the negative health outcomes associated with large amounts of body fat.

Research has shown, though, that higher than normal BMI and a larger waist circumference are generally associated with accumulations of visceral fat. Weight gain that is heavily concentrated around the midsection is a strong indicator for weight-related problems down the line. 

What do You Do if You Have a High BMI?

Working with your healthcare provider is essential for all decisions relating to your weight, especially if your BMI falls in the obesity range. There are a number of chronic diseases and life-threatening health conditions you are at higher risk for if you maintain a high BMI, especially in later life.  

If your body mass index reading lands you squarely in the obesity end of the spectrum, you will want to take notice. No matter what your normal healthy body weight might be due to genetic factors, health problems start to mount as your BMI gets past 30. 

As with all parts of your overall health, and any successful weight loss journey, you will do better with people around you to help you understand the challenges you are up against and what it will take to overcome them. 

At True You Weight Loss, we work with people to help them drop body fat in a healthy and sustainable way. For some, this means getting their weight down before problems like type 2 diabetes or heart disease become evident. For others, the health risks of maintaining their current weight, or difficulties in losing weight through diet and exercise, make them potential candidates for weight loss procedures to drop the pounds as rapidly as possible. 

There is more attention than ever on helping people with obesity or a high BMI and waist circumference lose weight. In addition to the other well-noted health consequences of being overweight, initial research suggests that being overweight is a strong predictor of negative outcomes should you contract the novel coronavirus. 

If you have been struggling with losing weight, request a consultation today with True You Weight Loss today. We have the tools, services, and expertise to help put you on the path to freedom from the concerns of excess body weight.

Dr. Christopher McGowan
Dr. Christopher McGowan

Dr. Christopher McGowan, MD, a leader in endobariatrics, specializes in non-surgical obesity treatments and is triple-board-certified in Internal Medicine, Gastroenterology, and Obesity Medicine. Renowned for pioneering endoscopic sleeve gastroplasty (ESG) with over 2,000 procedures, his global influence and research contributions define him as a top expert.

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