Vitality Checks ALL ABOUT BODY MASS INDEX (BMI)

Mother with son

What is BMI?

BMI stands for body mass index. It is a number that calculates how much you weigh based on how tall you are. It can determine if you’re at a healthy body weight for your height based on population averages.

What numbers indicate a healthy weight?

Because BMI takes into account that people come in different shapes and sizes, a range of 18.5 – 24.9 is considered healthy. Between 25 and 30 is considered overweight. An individual with a BMI of 30 or greater is considered obese, which can lead to an increased risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, musculoskeletal problems and other health issues.

Is BMI always an accurate indicator of health?

Yes and no. Because the “normal” numbers are based on population averages, certain criteria are not taken into consideration. If you are muscular, for example, you may have a BMI that’s considered unhealthy when it’s actually not. On the other hand, if you have a normal BMI, you may still be at risk based on how your body is storing fat. An apple body type, for example, is more prone to disease and early mortality. Waist circumference is sometimes also measured to improve the usefulness of BMI results.

Why should I get my BMI checked?

Your BMI could potentially tip off your doctors/health professionals to any health conditions you may be at risk for. It does not diagnose anything by itself so you will need to consult with your doctor for further health assessments. These may include skinfold thickness measurements, diet evaluation, physical activity, family history and other appropriate health screenings

Is a child’s BMI calculated in the same way?

Yes but different criteria are considered. Adults ages 20 and over use the standard weight status categories for all ages, both men and women. With children and teens, a growth chart is used to take into account their pattern and speed of growth. Gender is also considered.

How can I find out what my BMI is?

Use the Centers for Disease Control BMI calculator. Visit CDC.gov and find it under Multimedia & Tools on the homepage.

Ask Dr. Tom

What should I do if my BMI is out of the healthy range?

  1. Check your diet. Make sure you’re eating the right types and amounts of food. Guidelines such as USDA’s MyPlate can help. Don’t just look at calories alone but type of calories as well. Sugars and processed foods are the real weight saboteurs.
  2. Get physical, and keep your intake under control. For many people, the ability to lose weight through exercise alone is very limited. Some people actually gain weight when starting an exercise program, in part because their appetite is stimulated and they eat more. When starting an exercise program, monitor the calories you’re taking in, and fill up on a good amount of natural foods like fruits, veggies and whole grains.
  3. Talk to someone. You may not be fully in control of your BMI. Sometimes there are medical conditions that can cause your number to go up and make it difficult to bring down. Talking to your doctor is a good idea.
  4. Keep track. Everyone should have a scale at home to monitor his or her weight. It is not effective to monitor it by how your clothes fit, how you look in the mirror or what other people are saying. Check your measurements frequently to stay on track.

Sources
http://www.cdc.gov/healthyweight/assessing/bmi/ (link opens in new window) 

Dr. Thomas Van Gilder, MD, JD, MPH, is board-certified in internal medicine and general preventive medicine and public health. He currently serves as Humana’s national medical director for wellness, providing medical direction to HumanaVitality and other Humana wellness initiatives.

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