- Introduction to the body mass index (BMI)
- What does your BMI mean?
- Why are BMIs useful?
- Risks associated with extreme BMIs
- What are the limitations of the BMI?
- Other measures of obesity
The body mass index (BMI) is a physical measurement used to assess an individual’s total amount of body fat. The BMI was invented by Belgian polymath Adolphe Quetelet in the 1800s, and consequently is sometimes known as the Quetelet index. The BMI is calculated by dividing your weight in kilograms (kg) by your height in metres squared (m2). It is expressed as kg/m2. Calculate your BMI using the calculator below, then compare your result to the BMIs in Table 1.
The BMI scores give an indirect measure of body fat. Depending on the BMI value calculated you may be underweight, healthy weight, overweight or obese. The cut off values are as follows:
|Obese Class 1|
|Obese Class 2|
|Obese Class 3|
The BMI is a simple, inexpensive screening tool used to identify possible weight problems for both adults and children. A BMI measurement is useful to assess who needs further testing to identify health risks such as heart disease. Individuals at risk will need further assessment. Assessments may include skin fold thickness test, diet, physical activity level, family history and other appropriate health screenings.
Being either overweight (with a BMI of 25 or above) or underweight (with a BMI lower than 18.5) can affect your health.
Individuals who are overweight or obese have a greater risk of disease compared to those in the healthy weight range. The risk of disease increases with increasing BMI. Those classified overweight (BMI 25-29.9) may also be considered pre-obese and are at an increased risk of disease. In Category 1 obesity (BMI 30-34.9) there is a moderate risk of disease, which increases to severe and very severe risk at obesity stages 2 (BMI 35-39.9) and 3 (BMI ≥40) respectively.
It is important to note that BMI does not determine risk alone. Other factors such as what one eats, how much they exercise and whether or not there is a history of disease in their family also influences an individual’s risk of disease. However as a group, overweight and obese individuals have an increased risk of many diseases.
They have a greatly increased risk of:
- Type 2 Diabetes;
- Gall bladder disease;
- Insulin Resistance;
- Sleep apnoea;
- Social isolation and depression;
- Daytime sleepiness and fatigue.
They have a moderately increased risk of:
- Cardiovascular diseases (i.e. stroke, heart attack);
- Gout /hyperuricaemia;
- Respiratory disease;
- Psychological problems.
They have a slightly increased risk of:
- Some forms of cancer (breast, colon and endometrial cancers);
- Reproductive abnormalities;
- Impaired fertility;
- Polycystic ovarian syndrome;
- Skin complications;
- Varicose veins;
- Musculskeletal problems;
- Bad back;
- Stress incontinence;
Individuals who are underweight may be malnourished. In addition they have an increased risk of developing health problems including:
- Compromised immune function with increased susceptibility to infections;
- Menstrual irregularities;
- Impaired fertility.
Limitations associated with the BMI are:
- BMI varies by age, sex and race. Hence one’s BMI can only be compared to those of the same sex, age and race.
- BMI does not differentiate between muscle and fat and will therefore underestimate in some and overestimate for others (e.g. An athlete may have a high BMI because of greater amount of muscle rather than fat).
- Disabled or elderly people have less muscle mass and therefore will have a lower BMI. This does not necessarily mean that their weight is normal or underweight.
- Pregnant women will also have a higher BMI because of increased weight associated with pregnancy, but not necessarily due to increased fat. BMI will overestimate body fat in this case. Pre-pregnancy BMI and weight gain during pregnancy should be used to assess a woman’s weight and the need for exercise and nutritional interventions.
- BMI does not differentiate between body fat distribution. Fat around the waist (“apple” body shape) is more dangerous than that around the hips (“pear” body shape), but this will not be picked up by the BMI.
Consult your healthcare giver for other physical measures that may need to be used along with BMI for assessing health risks associated with obesity.
|Waist circumference||Waist circumference (WC) is a good indicator of abdominal fat and can be used to indicate health risks. It is measured by putting an unstretched tape measure around the narrowest level of your waist over light or no clothing.
Risk also varies based on ethnicity and health risk are higher with a lower WC in certain ethnic groups including Aboriginal, Pacific Islander, South Asian, Chinese and Japanese populations.
|Hip circumference||Hip circumference (HC) is measured by putting a tape around the widest part of your hip area over minimal clothing. HC is not useful on its own; usually it is used as a ratio with WC as above.|
|Waist–hip ratio||Waist to hip ratio (WHR) is the ratio of your waist circumference to your hip circumference. For females the normal WHR is about 0.80, while for men it is 0.95.|
|Waist–height ratio||Waist to height ratio is the ratio of your waist circumference to your height.|
|For more information on nutrition, including information on types and composition of food, nutrition and people, conditions related to nutrition, and diets and recipes, as well as some useful videos and tools, see Nutrition.|
|For more information on obesity, health and social issues, and methods of weight loss, as well as some useful tools, see Weight Loss.|
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