This Is Why BMI Is Inaccurate and Misleading in 2024

by | Mar 1, 2024 | Physical Health

Docs and insurers have historically used this to determine how healthy you are. Here are better ways to know how much your weight matters to your health.

In June American Medical Association officially recognised the problematic history of using body mass index (BMI), the relationship between your height and weight, to diagnose obesity. For years, the standard for a “normal” BMI has been based on white men, without considering other genders and ethnicities that have increased health risks at different BMIs. In addition, BMI doesn’t consider where most of your body fat is located. When you carry fat around your midsection (near key organs like your heart, lungs, and liver), this makes your risk of health conditions like cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and nonalcoholic fatty-liver disease higher than for people who carry their weight elsewhere. Ultimately, if you take two people at the same BMI, their body composition and health risks may differ vastly.

READ MORE: These are the 3 Stages of Weight Loss, According to Dieticians

So does BMI need to be canceled? Not completely. It gives researchers a general feel for what’s happening within a population over time—like if overweight and obesity rates climb when an area becomes a food desert (a place with limited access to affordable and nutritious food). But it still doesn’t tell doctors—or you—how healthy you are.

In fact, no single number does. But these below can be useful in determining whether your weight is affecting your health:

Your Weight Measurement.

Docs say this is the best and most-studied way to know if your weight is putting your health at risk. For men, if your waist circumference is 40 inches or less at your belly button—less than 35.4 if you’re Asian—you’re good. You don’t need to compare it with your hip measurement or your height.

Your Body Composition.

Your overall body-fat percentage won’t tell you where fat is distributed. But tracking it—with a smart scale at home or in the gym—can offer useful insights. “For example, if you’re gaining weight but it’s all lean mass [muscle], the weight gain is not harmful,” says Jamy Ard, M.D., a professor of epidemiology and prevention at Wake Forest University School of Medicine.

Your Labs.

The absolute best way to know how healthy you are is with blood tests and a blood-pressure screening—and the doctor’s visit that goes with them. A doctor will also discuss your family history, your lifestyle, and how to manage all of that to feel your best.

This article originally appeared in the January/February 2024 issue of Men’s Health US.

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