The Word On Fitness

Myth busting the BMI Scale: Are healthy people with a high BMI getting cheated by the medical industry?

By Ry Ryan-Lim

Has your doctor ever told you your BMI was too high? I know I have been told this, as well as other fit individuals with good bone density and muscle volume and appropriate body composition, all who lead healthy lives and eat clean. The CDC defines it as “a reliable indicator of body fatness for people”.

However, even our most fit members struggle with fitting into a “healthy” category.

This means insurance companies sometimes charge higher premiums for people with a high BMI because it “poses a higher risk for disease”, like hypertension or coronary artery disease. Among such people are all those fit individuals with good bone density and muscle volume and little fat, who lead healthy lives and eat clean. Bone is denser than muscle and twice as dense as fat…of course our numbers will be higher! 

I have the same conversation with all of my clients at some point regarding this terrible system. Oftentimes, they have visited a doctor recently, who had zero interest in the lifestyles they are living or their habits and is making an assumption solely based on a number. Hearing the words “overweight” or “obese” can be detrimental to an individual struggling to lose weight or with an eating disorder. Not to mention, a lot of these same clients have tried fad or extreme diets to rectify this, only to gain the weight back, and then some.

Let’s dive deeper into this, shall we?

The body mass index was devised in the 1830s by Lambert Adolphe Jacques Quetelet, a mathematician from Belgium, as a way for the government to allocate resources. It has absolutely nothing to do with how healthy or unhealthy someone is.

He wasn’t even a doctor. He was a mathematician…and not a very good one. He had to square the height just to get a formula that matched the overall data! It ignores very important aspects of body composition, such as muscle mass, bone density, race, and gender. Adversely, there are plenty of people that put themselves at a much higher risk of developing heart disease that have little-to-no fat and are in a “normal” range on the scale, such as heavy drinkers or smokers, or those with genetic predispositions.

Logically, the body mass index is seriously flawed and complete nonsense. 

Let’s take a guitar, for example. If we think about a guitar, we can generally assume that the guitar has strings. That is a logical conclusion, right? But what if I told you to think about it the other way around? Just the strings? That could mean a number of things. I could be referring to a ukulele, or a puppet, or shoes. Just because something has strings, it doesn’t make it a guitar.

Quetelet devised this formula to indicate that an obese person would have a high BMI. That seems logical. But if we flip the script, we cannot logically conclude that an individual with a high BMI is obese. 

So why hasn’t anyone done anything about it?

Personally, I feel it’s just easier for the medical community to ignore that there’s a problem, even though there have been multiple studies debunking this. It’s quicker and much cheaper than more proven methods. And, with the rising rate of obesity and obesity-related diseases in the United States, I don’t see change anytime soon. Pharmaceutical and insurance companies can capitalize off people who are never given the tools to help themselves and are forced to comply with a 200-some year-old system devised by an incompetent mathematician.

If you have a high BMI but would like to know more about your true body composition, find a trainer at your local gym to measure you. They might be able to give you some tips to change some things with your routine if you are unhappy with your results. You could also seek out something more high-tech, like a BodPod, but that also comes with a high price. However, regardless of what your doctor says, nobody can tell you how you should feel about you.

The Experience Fitness & Mobility Studio is Hillcrest’s Lesbian/Queer-owned gym aimed to promote inclusiveness and body positivity within the fitness industry by providing a safe space for EVERYONE to reach their fitness goals regardless of race, age, preference, identity, or athletic ability.