Sunday, August 25, 2013

The Case Against BMI

I shared on my Facebook page several days ago an article from my local newspaper about how South Carolina had become the 7th fattest state in the nation.  Before I even clicked the link to read it, I went into orbit. Because I knew that the entire "study" would be based on the outdated, worthless statistic known as BMI.

What is BMI?

BMI stands for Body Mass Index. Here is the definition, straight from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's website:

"Body Mass Index (BMI) is a number calculated from a person's weight and height. BMI is a fairly reliable indicator of body fatness for most people."

Allow me to share my own definition: "Body Mass Index (BMI) is a worthless number calculated from a person's weight and height. It is an unreliable indicator that is so insane and unrealistic, its very existence contributes to an unhealthy body image and serves no purpose."

To illustrate what I am talking about, I will use myself as an example.  I am just under 5' 8" tall and weigh 199.5 pounds. What says BMI and the government about my weight?  Let's visit the online BMI calculator, again courtesy of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:

Click to enlarge

I have lost going on 400 pounds and have people telling me I look too thin.  Yet according to the dunces at the CDC, I am still "obese."  Furthermore, I need to lose 35 pounds to achieve a BMI of 24.9, so I will no longer be "overweight."  The stupidity is breathtaking, isn't it?

If I lose 35 more pounds,  I would be malnourished and probably scare small children at the store.  This is why BMI is idiotic and useless. Here's the truth about BMI: I am not obese, this chart is unrealistic and stupid and anyone who uses it as a guide is dumb. Perhaps the saddest casualty of BMI as a measuring stick for weight is someone's body image.

When I weighed 577 pounds, I used to look at the BMI calculator. 164 pounds! That's impossible.  At my highest weight, my head probably weighed 164 pounds.  So I just gave up.  BMI causes people to strive for unattainable perfection.  The message is clear: unless you're in the normal range, you're a failure and a terrible person. You're fat.  BMI has the same effect as a fashion magazine with a Photoshopped supermodel on the front of it.  It contributes to an unhealthy body image and causes eating disorders.  BMI is dangerous and destructive.

Who are you calling "obese?"

It turns out I am not the only one who is starting to realize this.  Researchers are finally beginning to accept that BMI is useless as well.

So what is the solution?  I have it right here, right now...and I will tell you for free (lucky you.)  Here it comes....wait for it...wait for it....wait for it....

Common sense. 

Blasphemy! Shocking! How dare I?

Here's how doctors should decide if someone is overweight or not: look at the person.  Look at their history.  Encourage them.  "If you would just get 50 pounds off your knees, it would make a difference."  In other words, if you weigh 500 pounds, 450 is better.  300 would be a fantastic goal. Stop striving for perfection.

And here is the ultimate indictment of BMI: the more society uses it, the fatter we all get.  It simply has no place in our society and is absolutely not part of any solution to our weight problem.

BMI sucks. End of story.

Bryan Ganey is the author of "Impossible: How I Lost Nearly 400 Pounds Without Surgery,"  now available from


  1. What did you do with all of the extra skin?

  2. Maybe the problem is in 20-30 pounds of loose skin? Just a thought.

  3. Hate to say I disagree...but I disagree. If one's BMI is usually a certain # and it starts to go up significantly (such as from 25 to 27), that should serve as a warning to do something about it. For me, BMI serves the same function as a belt that starts to get tight or an increase of more than 5 pounds on the scale. Of course, looking in a mirror without clothes on is also an easy way to see whether one's weight is getting out of control.

  4. Doesn't BMI at least give an approximate guidenance?