I remember the day it happened. One day I was overweight; the next day, I was obese.
No, I didn’t consume a tandem load of Girl Guide cookies. Nor did I suddenly get a new scale with ultra-accurate technology.
What really happened was the insurance companies got their way and the range for the Body-Mass Index shifted upward.
Systems recalibrate all the time. But in 1998, large groups of people went from having a slightly concerning (or none at all) issue with their weight to one in which massive interventions were required to stave off an earlier than desired departure from this mortal plane.
So you couldn’t colour me surprised when I read this article in the Medium about the racist origins of the BMI. But I was taken aback to see this quote:
While Quetelet’s work was used to justify scientific racism for decades to come, he was clear about one aspect of the BMI: it was never intended as a measure of individual body fat, build or health. For its inventor, the BMI was a way of measuring populations, not individuals — and it was designed for the purposes of statistics, not individual health. medicine.
Think about that: it was designed for the purposes of statistics not individual health.
And yet today, health media abounds with stories of how BMI is being used in grade schools to measure childhood obesity, on an individual level.
In the gym, I measure my success individually, but with precise tools. I didn’t start out lifting 230 pounds but overtime I and my trainer built up my endurance, my strength and my skill. The BMI is never used because it’s an inappropriate tool. Even the Centre for Disease Control in the US provides guidance to health practitioners on how to use the tool.
With the changes in the ranges for risk for BMI, people’s health status changed overnight. For many, they went from having little, or some risk, to a lot. What does that mean in practical terms?
When I became pregnant, I went from a low pregnancy risk category to a high one. When I was having a minor procedure a couple of years ago, the nurse sent me for a surgical risk screening based solely on what my BMI said: not what my blood pressure, my strength, or my general level of fitness showed.
It’s good to manage risk, but you have to do it properly. Using a flawed tool does not minimize risk. In fact, it may increase your level of risk for inappropriate treatment or intervention. It’s time we talked in greater detail on the issues surrounding BMI and understood more how fitness through regular activity can reduce risk rather than applying some numbers.
— MarthaFitat55 lives in St. John’s.