Many medical professionals believe that a person’s obesity can be calculated through a person’s body mass index (BMI), a ratio of a person’s height and weight. The system was deemed nearly perfect by Surgeon General David Satcher in 2001, after he announced that America was the most obese nation (Surgeon General). Although the system admits to having some minor flaws: it is gender and age specific in children only and it uses the same criteria across the board, it is becoming more and more clear how the once seemingly nearly perfect system is far from perfect. For over a decade, medical professionals have been using the BMI system to calculate a person’s percentage of body fat. However, recently, more and more medical professionals have begun to claim that the system is faulty and should not be used to indicate a person’s level of obesity due to the fact that it is not accurately reflective. Currently, medical professionals are producing numerous studies that favor other methods of calculating obesity over the BMI system, although most are still in the testing proscess. The BMI has too many flaws and should not continue to be implemented into American medical practices.
The BMI system is self admittedly faulty. One of the biggest flaws in the system is people who obtain large amounts of muscle mass. While he or she may be physically fit, and relatively healthy, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) would consider a person fitting this description overweight (Devlin). Prime examples of the BMI system mistakenly classifying people are basketball star Kobe Bryant and actor Brad Pitt, none of whom appear to be overweight. Arnold Schwarzenegger, a world class body builder and actor, was categorized into the highest level of obesity (Devlin). With clearly faulty classifications such as these, how can we trust the system? The blatantly defective evidence that disproves the BMI system leads to the question of whether or not America really was the most obese nation in 2001 as previously stated by the Surgeon General.
A series of studies have proven that a person’s BMI does not accurately reflect his or her body fat percentage. A research team from Michigan State University conducted a study that proved, as previously noted, BMI does not accurately calculate body fat. The major issue that occurs is that the same criteria for BMI are used for all adults of a specific gender. According to the research team, it does not make any difference to the BMI system whether you are a 21 year-old olympic athlete or a 75 year-old, immobile man (BMI Not Accurate).
According to the research team BMI should be used cautiously when classifying a persons fatness, especially amongst people who are college aged since most young adults have a high percentage of muscle mass (BMI Not Accurate). The system cannot distinguish the difference between fat and muscle.
WebMD produced an article claiming that a better form of calculating BMI can easily be achieved by measuring a person’s height and hip circumference. This new measurement technique, called the BAI has thus far been able to accurately validate the fat percentage of African-Americans and a majority of the Hispanic population. This method also has some limitations, but is still in the testing process (Doheny, Kathleen).
According to a 2004 study conducted by The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, the addition of calculating a persons waist circumference (WC) to their BMI is a better predictor of obesity risk and the illnesses that come with being overweight than the BMI system alone; however the evidence is inconclusive due to the fact that there is not a significant amount of data supporting this theory outside of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition’s own testing (Janssen, Ian). LiveStrong.com article Alternatives to BMI confirms this theory by stating that measuring the natural waist can give an almost accurate indication of the amount of abdominal fat a person contains. Women with WC of 35 inches or more and men with a WC of 40 inches or more are considered to be risk factors (Holley, Casey).
If the BMI system is clearly flawed and there are other better and more efficient methods of measuring the percentage of a person’s body fat, why are doctors still using it? If a person cannot accurately measure their actual fat percentage, how can we assume that America was at one time the world’s fattest nation? Well, looking deeper into the facts we can prove that this is untrue.
The Huffington Post released an article last year stating that the USA ranks 9th in regards to the percentage of the population that is considered to be obese. But, America is also the most Westernized nation, meaning it is the most industrialized nation with one of the largest populations, giving it an even fatter appearance when compared to other nations. The article primarily discusses how it is not just America that was wrongly accused of being obese, but the entire world; both first world, advancing and third world nations are seemingly increasing in their BMI statistics. The truth is, more and more people are becoming increasingly more fit. If BMI was to be calculated correctly, the US would be near the top of the list, but not the top. That spot is reserved for the small island nation of Nauru (Fattest Place).
While it is clear that alternative methods to the BMI system are not yet medically accepted, it is also clear that to keep using the BMI system would not be beneficial towards the medical community in any means. The only absolute proof that has come from the realization that the BMI system is heavily flawed is the notion that America may in fact not be as obese as though of by the world’s populations. It is important that medical professionals continue to test alternative theories so that the public can be provided with a more reliable method of calculating a person’s body fat percentage.
“BMI Not Accurate Indicator Of Body Fat.” Medical News Today. MediLexicon International, 09 Mar. 2007. Web. 02 Apr. 2012. http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/releases/64577.php>.
Devlin. “Devlin’s Angle.” Do You Believe in Fairies, Unicorns, or the BMI? Web. 02 Apr. 2012. <http://www.maa.org/devlin/devlin_05_09.html>.
Doheny, Kathleen. “New Alternative to BMI for Measuring Body Fat.” WebMD. WebMD. Web. 02 Apr. 2012. http://www.webmd.com/diet/news/20110303/new-alternative-to-bmi-for-measuring-body-fat>.
Holley, Casey. “Alternatives to BMI.” LIVESTRONG.COM. Web. 02 Apr. 2012. <http://www.livestrong.com/article/113959-alternatives-bmi/>.
Janssen, Ian. “The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.” Waist Circumference and Not Body Mass Index Explains Obesity-related Health Risk. Web. 02 Apr. 2012. <http://www.ajcn.org/content/79/3/379.short>.
“The Fattest Place On Earth.” The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, 01 Apr. 2011. Web. 02 Apr. 2012. <http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/01/04/the-fattest-place-on-earth_n_804361.html>.
“The Surgeon General’s Call To Action To Prevent and Decrease Overweight and Obesity.” Surgeon General. Web. 19 Mar. 2012. <http://www.surgeongeneral.gov/topics/obesity/calltoaction/1_1.html>