Is BMI the Best Health Indicator?

BMI (body mass index) has become a universally accepted means to measure one’s body-fat percentage.  While measuring one’s BMI is a good starting point for most, the problem lies in the fact that it does not actually measure body-fat or muscle mass rather it only takes a ratio of weight versus height.

A perfectly healthy person can have a BMI of 30 which means this person is obese.  Even someone with a low BMI can have a high percentage of body fat.  Relying solely on BMI results in the false conclusion that someone with high muscle mass is fat and someone with low muscle mass but maybe a high body fat percentage is healthy.

So what is the best way to determine your health status?  It is important to know your full body composition since BMI only measures height versus weight.   Simple procedures like skinfold measurements with calipers or circumference measurements can help assist you in determining your body fat percentage.  Most gym’s should have these tools available and trainers should be qualified make these measurements.  There are other ways to determine body composition that require a little more science but are more accurate.  Bioelectrical Impedance measures body composition by sending a current of electricity through your body.  This electric current (which is harmless) calculates body fat since the current flows easily through water (blood, urine, muscle) then it will through bone or fat.  These measurements are then combined with other factors like age, weight and height.  The most accurate method of measuring body composition is Hydrostatic (Underwater) Body Fat Testing.  This method requires one to be weighed in the water, separating the less dense (body fat) from the more dense (bones, muscles & connective tissue) parts of the body.  The higher the body fat percentage, the easier one will float in the water since it is less dense.  Hydrostatic Testing is usually done in labs but are available to the public with a fee.

There are many methods out there to confirm one’s body composition other than BMI.  Do not be afraid to build muscle just because it means there may not be significant weight loss.  Muscle is by far healthier than fat.  It burns more calories, strengthens bones and lowers the risk for chronic disease and injury.  Having a high or low BMI is just a platform when it comes to health.

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