Quick: What is your BMI?
Even if you don’t know your score on this important health measure, you may know that it has something to do with your weight. BMI stands for Body Mass Index, and it is a ratio of a person’s weight to their height. Calculate yours here.
Depending on your score, you will fall into 1 of 4 categories:
- Underweight (BMI below 18.5)
- Normal weight (BMI of 18.5-24.9)
- Overweight (BMI of 24.9-30.0)
- Obese (BMI of 30.0 and above)
You probably know that the higher your BMI, the higher your risk for many health concerns. These include heart problems, high blood pressure, breathing problems, diabetes, gallstones, and cancer, according to the CDC.
That is why BMI is one of the major ways that doctors measure health. But it is not perfect. In fact, it leaves out several factors that can have an impact on your well-being.
For example, BMI can’t tell the difference between the weight from muscle and the weight from fat. People can be very athletic and muscular but have a large frame and fall into the overweight or even obese category. But the exercise they do to stay strong is very healthy for their heart and overall health. People like this without a serious health condition like diabetes are considered metabolically healthy.
On the other hand, a person may be slender but smoke and never exercise. In either case, BMI won’t give the doctor a complete picture of health.
In a 2016 study in the International Journal of Obesity, about half of Americans that fall into the overweight BMI category, and 30% of those in the obese category, were metabolically healthy. This was based on tests of blood pressure, blood sugar, cholesterol, and levels of triglycerides—a harmful type of blood fat.
BMI also doesn’t account for waist size (or circumference), which is another big clue to your health. Extra weight around your belly often means that you have a lot of fat around your vital organs, called visceral fat.
This type of fat is more harmful to your health than fat that settles in your legs or rear end. If your waist measurement is greater than 35” for women and 40” for men, you may be at risk for serious health conditions.
BMI still plays an important role in measuring health risks. But mostly it helps to show disease trends in groups of people.
It may be used in a doctor’s office as a starting point. In addition to checking your BMI, your doctor should also ask you about your activity levels and eating patterns and test your blood pressure, blood sugar, and cholesterol.
Keep in mind that even if you are metabolically healthy, excess weight can start to stress your joints and bones. That could lead to problems with your hips, knees, or back. If you don’t have serious health problems now, you might develop them in the future.
That’s why it’s still important to eat well, get moving (even just a little), mind your stress and sleep, and get regular check-ups and screenings—no matter how your BMI measures up.