Weight and Body Mass Index Defined
With rates of obesity at epidemic proportions and constant chatter about body image, it should come as no surprise that weight is a popular topic wherever you go. Despite the ubiquitousness with which discussions about weight, BMI, and everything in between occur, there still remains much confusion about what a healthy weight really is. With charts that measure body fat and height, as well as diets found in doctors offices and fashion magazines, there seems to be a lot of talk and even more confusion.
When we step on a scale, we are not just measuring last night’s dessert or the fat that insulates us. While it may seem almost redundant to share, it is crucial that all of us understand that our weight consists, in its totality, of the length and size of our bones, flatus from yesterday’s meals, muscle mass, bloating related to periods or other physiological functions, and the water that nourishes our bodies. Scale measures most certainly include how much fat we contain as well, but not exclusively. With an understanding that our weight consists of more than just fat, we release ourselves from the notion that extra weight is solely fat. There are times when that may be true, but others where it absolutely is not.
Body Mass Index (BMI)
Body Mass Index is a tool used to calculate the amount of body fat men and women posses, by relying on measures of their height and weight. Based on these computations, individuals are placed into one of four BMI categories. A BMI of 18.5 or less indicates that a person is underweight. A body mass index of 18.5 to 24.9 indicates that an individual is at a healthy weight, while BMI’s of 25 to 29.9 and 30 and over, indicate respectively, that a person is either overweight or obese.
BMI does not take into account information beyond height, weight, and gender. That means that a seasoned bodybuilder who seeks to gain muscle weight may be considered obese. Age is also not factored into the equation, which does the measure a significant disservice, as most of us gain weight over time, and as we age. Though BMI measures can be helpful in indicating trends in weight and health over time, they do not include factors that contribute to our weight and overall health, such as body type, bone density, ratio of muscle to fat, and our overall general health.
The Disconnection between Weight and BMI
There are several aspects of weight and health that simply cannot be ignored in this discussion. For example, being overweight or underweight are not only physical states or health conditions, but carry with them personal judgements, social stigma, and medical bias. Whereas obesity or more delicately put, “rotundity,” was once seen as a sign of wealth and desirability, excess weight is now evaluated based on where it sits, what it is from, and assumptions made about whether or not the overweight person is planning on losing that weight. And given the fact that there are so many ways to “lose weight and feel great,” how to actually go about doing so can be downright discombobulating!
Factors that Affect Weight and Body Mass Index
It would be disingenuous to so much as indicate that what we eat and whether or not we exercise do not play a role in our overall health. So too, it would be inaccurate, unfair, and tacitly false to argue that there are no other significant factors to consider. Genetics
Genetics play a huge part in the medical conditions we inherit, including our propensity for overweight. Our genes do not determine our health or behavior in a vacuum, so the assumption that overweight parents will guarantee overweight kids is just not true. That said, the chances of being overweight are indeed greater if you are born to overweight parents because both genetics and learned behaviors that may have contributed to their obesity, are at play. Socioeconomic status
Limited access to healthy food, well paying employment, and safe neighborhoods in which to walk, contribute greatly to becoming, and staying obese. There does not seem to be any inherent mystery in the studies that bear this out, as simply stated, the less money one has, the less access they have to medical resources, education, and in turn, the knowledge to understand how weight, health, and BMI intersect. Food Deserts and Food Swamps
Though intimately connected to socioeconomic status, food deserts and food swamps are positively correlated to high levels obesity. Food deserts are often dangerous areas in which there are large expanses of land devoid of nutritious food. Food deserts are often the result of an exodus of store owners who are afraid to serve a particular community, or fear that their particular store will not be financially solvent. Food swamps on the other hand, are areas in which poor, run down neighborhoods, are filled with markets and shops that primarily serve fast food, cheap food, and lots of alcohol. People who live in these “deserts and swamps” may want to achieve and maintain good health, while their immediate surroundings and resources make it seemingly impossible to do.
Ways to Achieve a True Balance Between Weight and Health
With a myriad of social, economic, medical, environmental, and genetic pieces to the BMI puzzle, it is incumbent upon the medical community to evaluate physical health and obesity based on more than just BMI.
There are many other ways to evaluate health and weight, such as using waist circumference and waist-to-height ratio. Measuring your waist circumference and determining your height and weight, require nothing more than a tape measure and scale. Other measures to employ include the use of specialized X-rays, plethysmography, or calipers that assess body fat. Conducting lab tests that analyze lipids and cholesterol levels, and densitometry, which provides an underwater assessment of body composition, are all rigorous, solid ways of determining how much actual fat you are carrying.
Most health professionals do not recommend completely ditching the BMI scale. In fact the statistical convictions on which BMI is based are impressive, given the fact that it was originally devised by a statistician, and not someone involved with public welfare. If you need help in determining how to unravel the science for yourself, contact Dr. Shahen Kurestian, DC of Body Systems Wellness in Glendale, California who can help.