BMI: a simple method to estimate body fat

December 8, 2022

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Body Mass Index (BMI) is a person’s weight in kilograms divided by the square of height in meters. The index is based on a simple concept: the higher your BMI, the higher your risk for certain diseases. These include heart disease, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, gallstones, breathing problems, and certain cancers.

BMI compared to other methods measuring body fat

Using BMI to get a measurement of body fat is easy. There are many online calculators that allow you to input your height and weight for your result. The calculation, or online tool,  informs you of where your BMI fits within 4 different categories: underweight, normal, overweight or obese.

While BMI gives you a “ballpark” for your body fat, it is not the most accurate method. For instance, a bodybuilder, or an individual with a high level of muscle mass, could receive a result suggesting they are overweight or obese because BMI cannot distinguish between muscle weight versus fat weight. However, carrying 20 pounds of muscle does not have the same negative health impact as if those same 20 pounds were fat.

The challenge with other methods measuring body fat is that they are not always easily available. What’s more, they can be costly and require highly-skilled professionals to administer them. Some of these methods you may have heard of include: skin-fold thickness, underwater weight, bioelectrical impedance, dual-energy x-ray absorptiometry (DEXA), and air displacement plethysmography.

Increased heart problems and weight gain

It's more important than ever to be aware of your individual level of body fat. As our lives have become increasingly digital, many people spend the majority of their day seated in front of a computer. In addition, the lack of regular exercise and poor eating habits can be attributed to a spike in obesity levels across the country.

Increased weight presents a health problem all by itself. However, when it’s combined with any of the following risk factors your heart becomes a serious target for other health challenges according to the National Institutes of Health.

These risk factors include:

  • High blood pressure (hypertension)
  • High LDL cholesterol ("bad" cholesterol)
  • Low HDL cholesterol ("good" cholesterol)
  • High triglycerides
  • High blood glucose (sugar)
  • Family history of heart disease
  • Physical inactivity
  • Cigarette smoking

How to keep your BMI in the healthy range

Keeping your BMI in a healthy range is based on a time-tested system. By following a healthy diet and exercise program, you have the keys to achieving and maintaining healthy weight throughout your life.

A safe and simple checklist to help you manage your weight include the following:

  1. Getting optimal sleep,
  2. Reducing stress,
  3. Eating more fruits and vegetables,
  4. Exercising daily

Of course, you should always talk with your health care provider first before beginning any exercise or weight loss program.

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