Obesity is a perennial health issue, with 97 million Americans considered to be overweight.
To that end, the body mass index (BMI) scale has been used for years to determine an individual’s overall fat percentage. It is a simple ratio of a person’s weight to height, and healthcare providers routinely measure their patient’s BMI as part of their examinations.
A healthy BMI is typically seen as being between 18.5 and 24.9. Anything outside of that range is viewed as being underweight or overweight.
Unfortunately, the combination of BMI and measuring weight does not tell the whole story. In fact, University of Alberta researchers studying heart failure patients say that BMI is a misleading indicator of their health.
The Centers for Disease Control further warns “because BMI does not measure body fat directly, it should not be used as a diagnostic tool. Instead, BMI should be used as a measure to track weight status in populations and as a screening tool to identify potential weight problems in individuals.”
Today, the body composition analysis has become the gold standard for determining a patient’s health level. Dual energy x-ray absorption or DXA scanners are used to measure several critical factors and knit them together to provide a full body analysis that BMI just cannot match.
Let’s take a look at five things BMI and weight alone will not tell you.
5 Things Weight and BMI Do Not Tell You
Muscle vs. Fat Density
One of the most misleading aspects of BMI is that it cannot differentiate between fat and muscle. Since it uses a height/weight formula to determine one’s healthy weight, it offers no means of determining what type of tissue makeup you have.
Because of their lean muscle weight, it is not uncommon for professional athletes to have BMI readings showing them as overweight, while unhealthy individuals with higher fat levels can appear in the healthy range.
Therefore, someone who leads a sedentary lifestyle may have a high degree of fat and less lean muscle tissue, with BMI readings that may downplay the risks associated with their lifestyle.
Visceral vs. Subcutaneous Fat
There are two main types of fat: visceral and subcutaneous. Subcutaneous fat deposits are located under the skin and are not necessarily detrimental to our health.
Visceral fat, however, is that type of tissue that tends to build up around abdominal organs and is explicitly linked to a broad range of health issues including diabetes and heart disease.
BMI readings cannot differentiate between the two types, and therefore cannot give you a fair reading of the potential health risks you face.
Not everyone has exactly comparable bone density, which may skew BMI ratings in people who might otherwise fall into the healthy range or make people with heavier bone structures appear to be overweight.
Changes in Bone and Tissue Densities
It is important to gain a big picture understanding of how different tissue percentages change over time. BMI can only give you a not-too-accurate snapshot of your weight; while it can tell you if your weight is fluctuating up or down, it cannot specify whether it is your muscle, fat or bone densities which are changing.
If you are gaining weight, are you putting on similar amounts of muscle? Is your visceral fat being reduced, or is weight loss the result of a loss of bone density? These are all factors that need to be considered as part of understanding the direction in which your body is trending.
As well, BMI does not offer a way to track changes in bone density over time, an essential indicator of someone’s risk of contracting osteoporosis.
Your Health Level
As we have noted, visceral fat and obesity are linked to a host of diseases and conditions, and bone density loss can be the result of critical mineral depletion.
By merely having height to weight ratio “zones” indicating relative health, BMI can easily provide misleading information on the general status of your health.
Get The Answers From a Complete Body Composition Analysis
Scanners such as the GE iDXA can tell you everything you need to know about your body composition, giving you a much more thorough picture than BMI can provide.
They can measure bone density, and are particularly useful for those who want to track changes in their body as well as measure mineral loss in their bones.
DXA can quickly determine the things that BMI cannot tell you, such as muscle, fat and bone densities in addition to fat types, and changes to body composition over time.
The advantages of getting an iDXA scan include:
- Fast, simple and noninvasive way to get an accurate breakdown of your body composition
- It is an excellent tool for measuring risks associated with osteoporosis
- It can also let you know if you are at greater risk for conditions such as diabetes and heart disease
While BMI can be beneficial for the average person to know where their weight level lies, its lack of ability to differentiate between the factors that go into bodyweight makes it little more than a rough approximation at best.
Quantumcare is an Ocoee, Florida-based health center that helps with sports injuries, rehabilitation and pain recovery. Our doctors use a variety of options such as physical therapy, nutrition and chiropractic care with a functional medicine approach to help our patients get on the road to recovery. Contact us to learn how we can help support your wellness goals.
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