Why BMI indicator is flawed when measuring health

Our Body Mass Indicator is used as a sort of indicator of our health – our BMI
Published: Dec. 10, 2021 at 6:02 PM EST
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) - Our Body Mass Indicator is used as a sort of indicator of our health – our BMI.

It can No. 1, determine treatments you get and your risk of certain diseases. It’s just a simple equation. Height over weight, squared. A BMI of less than 18.5 is considered underweight.

Between 18.5 and 24.9 is normal, and 25 to 29.9 is overweight.

And 30 or more is considered obese.

It’s been used for hundreds of years. But, WBTVs Lileana Pearson has learned that it is flawed.

It was never intended to be applied to the individual because it’s not a very good measure.

Pearson spoke with Dr. Steven Hurst, Director of the UNC-Chapel Hill Nutrition Institute about what BMI actually means.

Dr. Hurst: “Examples from our Charlotte area - some of our athletes, that’s an example where BMI really breaks down because of someone with a lot of muscularity, you know, their weight over height ratio, kind of measure is deceivingly high, even though their percent body fat is very low. So think, Christian McCaffrey, for example, would be considered overweight.”

Dr. Hurst: “And so you know, it’s really a poor measure for individual, and we’ve got to get more precise on the individual level so that we can best help decrease the risk of some of these obesity-related diseases.

Pearson: “If the traditional BMI scale is flawed for individuals why then when you walk into a doctor’s office do they sometimes give you that chart and they show you that little graph and they say, ‘Here’s where you are in the graph and they kind of present that to you as a marker of your health?’”

Dr. Hurst: “That’s a good question and I don’t have a great explanation other than we’ve kind of missed the boat on that.”

Instead of depending on a single number to judge your personal health, Dr. Hurst encourages taking a deeper dive into your personal health habits with your health provider.”

“I spend 30 minutes to an hour with my patients asking them about all facets of their lives,” said Leslie Ware, a health educator. “One thing that I notice is if anyone’s weight is in excess that signals an imbalance in their biochemistry or their lifestyle, so that’s where I really like to start.”

Both Ware and Hurst agree that talking with your doctor about the causes of possible inflammation is a good place to start.

“As it turns out, our American diet is high in processed food and there are some foods that are pro-inflammatory., like sugar for instance, and bad fats that are made of seed oil like canola oil, sunflower safflower oil,” Ware said. “Those can trigger inflammation because our bodies are microbiomes and our healthy bacteria see those things as foreign. And because that is where our immune health is sourced, you’re really disrupting it when you have a high processed food diet.”

So, in turn, your immune system will turn on itself and that manifested in inflammation. So, when that happens, you can develop many other chronic diseases that we’re seeing right now. So that’s why I think it’s not just important to check your BMI but to see that as a sign and take a deeper dive as a healthcare provider to look at other metabolic markers like the CRP which is a measure of inflammation, looking at your insulin levels, looking at your blood glucose levels in relation to the hemoglobin A-1-C, and looking at your triglycerides that are the blood fats that will go up if you’re taking in too many pro-inflammatory foods, in particular simple carbohydrates.”

Ware encourages you to go into your next doctor’s appointment with a list of questions, asking to discuss your lifestyle, from your diet to the hours you keep, down to what you do for work can help you and your doctor creates a plan focused on overall well-being and have a bigger impact on your health.

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