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Body Mass Index Versus Body Fat Percentage

I was reading through the news feeds this morning and saw a story about BMI (body mass index) for Hollywood stars and celebrities. It reminded me just how misleading BMI assessments can be.

The practice of using body mass index as a way to determine a healthy body weight has been around for years. Originally used by the US military to determine eligibility for service, physicians and health professionals have adopted this protocol for their own evaluations. Some insurance companies still use this outdated measurement when determining cost of coverage. I’m surprised you don’t hear more outcry against the practice of using BMI measurments because it can most definitely be misleading.

What if I told you the following Hollywood stars and celebrities we’re considered obese from their estimated BMI?

- Arnold Schwarzenegger

- Tom Cruise

- Tony Romo

You’d say there’s no way, but it’s true. According to their estimated BMI’s they’re all considered obese! So what gives, how can that be? What do all three of these celebrities have in common? They’re all athletic in build and have a somewhat muscular frame. Granted, Arnold aint what he used to be but he’s certainly not obese.

The problem with the body mass index is that is does NOT take into consideration lean muscle mass!

BMI is calculated solely by a person’s height and weight. According the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, BMI is “a fairly reliable indicator of body fatness for most people.” Are you kidding me? This is the actual words from their website. With all the resources available for our government, this is what we’re still being pitched. Come on now, we’re better than that.

Just because we’re to assume people don’t have access to body fat percentage testing, we’re going to keep rolling out BMI as some accurate measurement tool. It’s not, I don’t why there’s even debate on this subject.

As a certified Charleston personal trainer I don’t even consider BMI when assessing clients. What’s the point when a body fat percentage measurement can be quickly taken through a hand-held electrical bioimpedance analyzer.

Granted, it’s not as pin-point accurate as hydrostatic weighing, body fat calipers, and other body fat assessments, but it’s close enough. It sure as heck gives a better indication of a person’s overall body fat composition than BMI.

The BMI standard has always been a pet-peeve of mine. At 6’2 and around 245 pounds I’m personally considered obese by BMI standards. It’s a joke. You can’t tell a person’s body fat composition just by looking at some height and weight chart. Let’s face it, people are built differently. Some people have more muscular builds than others. Some people may appear to be in the “healthy” range according to BMI standards but actually have “unhealthy” body fat percentages.

Have you ever heard of the term “skinny fat.” It’s used sometimes to describe people who look slim and fit and street clothes but due to significant losses in lean muscle they have a high body fat percentage. I’ve personally conducted body fat percentage testing on individuals with BMI’s in the 18- 24 range (considered normal) and seen body fat percentages as high as 40%! I’m not making this up, seen it numerous times.

Now you tell me which individual is more likely to be “healthier.”

Person A: BMI of 18 and body fat percentage of 40%.

Person B: BMI of 31 and body fat percentage of 17%

In some situations I may go for a physical and be categorized as “high risk” by an insurance company due to my BMI measurement that says I’m obese. This simply isn’t right and there’s no excuse why body fat percentages aren’t used.

We can get into a debate all day long on the accuracy of body fat testing protocols but any one of them are far more accurate than a BMI assessment.

In my own little corner of the world I can only educate the people I come in contact with as a fitness coach. And I certainly look to help people understand that it’s really their body fat percentage that matters most. But the shame of the matter is the outdated practice of BMI standards is still being used by health professionals, insurance companies, and even our own government.

You can be the judge for yourself on which method seems to make the most common sense. I’ll take my obese self and head back to the gym for another workout. Do you really need a chart or measurement to tell you that you’re overweight anyways? Last time I checked the mirror doesn’t tell many lies.

Shane Doll is a certified personal trainer, fat loss expert, speaker, and founder of Shaping Concepts Fitness Training Studios. If you’re looking for a personal trainer in Charleston, you can receive a no-obligations personal training trial and consultation without risking a dime. Over 1000 Charleston area residents have transformed their bodies following our unique burst training workouts and simplified nutrition programs. Experience the Shaping Concepts difference today.

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Category: Shane's Commentary.