Still Using BMI As An Indicator? It May Be Misleading You.

When I was in high school we measured our body mass index (BMI) in health class. My BMI said I was overweight. I was 16, an athlete running MILES a day with a good parent-controlled diet. In fact, I had skinny legs and was made fun of for being too skinny “for a black girl”. So why was it that my BMI came back overweight, but the white girl of the same height and lifestyle was not?

First thing to know is that BMI doesn’t take into account muscle mass. Muscle is denser (heavier) than fat. You will find most professional athletes don’t bother with BMI for this reason. BMI is calculated based on the height and weight of a person. The formula is (weight(lbs)/height²(inches))x703, where 703 is a conversion factor using English measurement. For example, a 150lb woman who is 5’5″ (or 65 inches) has a BMI of 24.98. According to the BMI chart system, a BMI of 24.98 is borderline normal and overweight. The second thing to know is that women tend to carry more fat than men.

Back to the reason why I may have had a higher BMI than my white girl counterpart. My muscle mass may have been more dense, thus weighing more. I didn’t come across a particular study to prove or disprove this (doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist), but when you look at female track athletes there is a “classic” body shape that generally emerges. The thighs become very developed and the lower legs are skinny. The muscles in the thighs and back are the largest thus accounting for the majority of lean mass. I had thick thigh muscles for sprinting. So I may have outweighed my counterpart in that regard.

Another possibility to consider is bone weight. Research exploring whether the bone weight/density between races differs exits, however there are so many articles on this it’s hard to determine the definitive answer. In 2000 The Journal of Clinical Nutrition published an article that black people have heavier or denser bones than their white counterparts. My bones may have been heavier and my skeletal frame may have been “bigger”. There are some women, regardless of race, who have a petite frame or fine features while others are built like “brick houses” if I can borrow from the Commodores.

Here are some metrics to use when looking at your current and future states:

  • % of body fat – there are ways to measure your ratio of fat versus lean mass
  • Measuring tape – whip out the measuring tape and look at the inches around your middle, arms, thighs, and chest
  • Old school calipers – a device used to pinch the fat under your arm to get a sense of how much fat you’re carrying

There is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to using physical characteristics to determine your weight profile. Though I didn’t get into this much, there are important internal factors that determine your health profile. The new black chick finds the method that’s best for her and sticks with it.

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Nile Harris
Nile Harris, the Chief Chick, is a word weaver and dream believer with 20 years of experience in healthcare, finance, and education. This aspiring motivational speaker, TED presenter and LinkedIn Influencer is committed to valuing people, driving healthcare access and innovation, and weaving words that move people to action. Her views are her own.
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3 Thoughts to “Still Using BMI As An Indicator? It May Be Misleading You.”

  1. […] disease primarily because it’s based on the flawed body mass index (BMI) system. (See my blog post on why BMI is flawed). Another reason the council was not in favor is that it would consider a […]

  2. […] already know that Body Mass Index (BMI) is not a good measure for African-Americans, especially women, and elite athletes. It is far more important to know your numbers as an […]

  3. […] According to the BMI chart this is considered on the border of normal and overweight. There are three problems with BMI. First, it doesn’t account for muscle mass. Professional athletes with nearly zero percent […]

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