BMI

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Bogus BMI Numbers

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Take two numbers, height and weight, and come up with another number, Body Mass Index (BMI), and as an indicator of good health you have next to nothing.  The BMI fails to take into account physical features - as an example those with broad shoulders will have a higher BMI compared to those with narrow shoulders. There is no differentiation between fat, muscle, and bone, and it does not account for gender.

The BMI often changes as we age. For some it is lower, but that does not necessarily mean better health. Thirty years ago I was in peak physical condition and had more muscle mass than I do today; I regularly played rugby, two 40 minutes halves of pretty much non-stop strenuous exertion with no substitutions.  According to this BMI chart I would have been bordering on obesity and classified as unhealthy.

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Study finds BMI to be deeply flawed measure of health

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The government has proposed rules that would allow employers to penalize employees for up to 30% of their health insurance costs if they don’t meet 24 health criteria one of which is the BMI, Body Mass Index.   It turns out that the BMI is a very unreliable indicator of health.    

From this LA times article, BMI mislabels 54 million Americans as 'overweight' or 'obese,' study says:

“A team of UCLA researchers analyzed data from 40,420 individuals who participated in the 2005-2012 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey and they found that nearly half (47.4%) of overweight people and 29% of obese people were, from a metabolic standpoint, quite healthy. On the flip side, more than 30% of individuals with “normal” weights were metabolically unhealthy.

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Muscle mass a better predictor of longevity

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From this Scientific American article, Muscle Mass Beats BMI as Longevity Predictor:

“Researchers analyzed BMI and muscle mass data from more than 3,600 seniors in a long-term study. And they tracked which seniors had died, a decade later. Turns out BMI wasn't much good at predicting chance of death. 

But muscle mass was: more muscle meant better odds of survival.” 

BMI is a dubious measurement to begin with.  Pictured is Mike Tyson. According to BMI charts he would be classified as clinically obese. He is not fat and has substantial muscle mass.

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BMI Versus Eyeballing

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It used to be that to determine how fat a person was one took calipers and took anywhere from three to seven measurements of the body, came up with a total, and looked at a chart that took age into account to come up with a number for body fat percentage.  That might take a few minutes or a little longer if you did as recommended and checked it twice to make sure. 

Now BMI is the preferred measurement.  Take weight and height and look at a chart – you’re done, let’s golf. 

In his prime fighting weight Mike Tyson was 5’10’ and 220 pounds.  According to BMI charts Mike's BMI of 31.6 would classify Mike as clinically obese. BMI is wildly inaccurate.  Why is it used?  It is easy, that is why.  It takes few seconds instead of a few minutes.  What is worse, researchers base studies on the BMI. 

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