Have you heard body builders at the gym comparing their BMIs? Or do you know someone who is body-obsessed and talks about BMI in every conversation? Here’s why knowing your BMI can be useful to you.
BMI stands for Body Mass Index and is the ratio of a person’s weight to height squared. BMI can be used as a screening tool for body fatness but is not diagnostic. Because the calculation requires only height and weight, it is inexpensive and easy to use for clinicians as well as the general public.
BMI is not a perfect measure because it doesn’t assess body fat directly. Muscle and bone are denser than fat, so an athlete or muscular person might have a high BMI but not have too much fat. For the majority of the adult population, measuring BMI is considered by researchers to be a reliable way to determine whether a person has too much body fat.1
The most basic definition of overweight and obesity is having so much body fat that that it “presents a risk to health.”2 Measuring BMI is a widely used method for clinicians to determine who is overweight or obese. BMI is strongly correlated with metabolism rates and disease risks, which are more direct measures of body fatness.3
The National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI) provides a body mass index calculator on their website. 4
According to the NHLBI, here are the BMI categories:
Underweight = <18.5
Normal weight = 18.5-24.9
Overweight = 25-29.9
Obesity= 30 or >
Whether your BMI shows you to be underweight, normal weight, overweight or obese, check with your physician before undertaking any drastic changes to your diet.
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1 Gallagher D, Visser M, Sepulveda D, Pierson RN, Harris T, Heymsfield SB. How useful is body mass index for comparison of body fatness across age, sex, and ethnic groups? Am J Epidemiol. 1996; 143:228-39.
2 World Health Organization. Obesity and overweight. Fact sheet Number 311. September 2006. Accessed January 25, 2012.
3 Flegal, K.M. & Graubard, B.I., 2009. Estimates of excess deaths associated with body mass index and other anthropometric variables. Am. J. Clin. Nutr., 89(4), pp.1213–1219.
4 The National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute