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Is BMI a good measure of health risks?


BMI, or body mass index, is a widely used number to see if you have a healthy weight and it’s a result of your weight compared to your height. The thought is that if you’re BMI is too high you could be more susceptible to heart disease, cardiovascular disease and diabetes, to name few. It is calculated by multiplying your bodyweight by 703 and then dividing that number by your height in inches squared. The resulting number is broken down into four categories:

  • Underweight - < 18.5

  • Normal – 18.5 – 24.9

  • Overweight – 25 – 29.9

  • Obese - >30

The calculation would look like this:

180# man who is 5’10” tall


126,540/4,900 = 25.82


130# woman who is 5’6” tall


91,390/4,356 = 20.98

According to the above results, the male would be overweight, and the female would be normal. But this doesn’t tell all the story. It’s just a good starting point. BMI doesn’t take into account the amount of muscle compared to bodyfat. The man is an athlete, so he has a lot of muscle whereas the woman is sedentary and has very little muscle mass.

A better choice

Body fat percentage

A better indicator of health is percentage of body fat. This is the percentage of you body that is fat tissue relative to your total body mass. While some fat is essential, the higher percentage of fat you have, the more risk you may have for certain health conditions, like high blood pressure, heart disease, and diabetes. Your body fat changes throughout your life even if your weight stays exactly the same.

The recommended body fat for women is:

  • Age Percentage

  • 20-39 21%-32%

  • 40-59 23%-33%

  • 60-79 24%-35%

The recommended body fat for men is:

  • Age Percentage

  • 20-39 8%-19%

  • 40-59 11%-21%

  • 60-79 13%-24%

There are a variety of ways to measure body fat but the most common and inexpensive is skinfold calipers. You can purchase skinfold calipers online and prices range from a few bucks to over two hundred. It’s accuracy can be off by up to 5% depending on how it’s taken but it does give a more accurate measurement of health risks than BMI.

If you are concerned about your weight, consult your health care professional to find out what options would work best for you. Just make sure it's not a quick fix but a long-term, healthy choice.

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