Study shows BMI may be off balance

Nearly 75 million Americans could be miscategorized based on their BMI.

Hannah Weikel

A person’s weight and height may not be an accurate measure of their health status, according to a recent study.
 
 
Body mass index, widely used among health professionals for calculating health on a spectrum from underweight to obese, could be inaccurately categorizing nearly 75 million Americans, according to a study released earlier this month by the International Journal of Obesity.
 
 
Testing a person’s BMI is quick and inexpensive, which is why it’s often used as an indicator for health, said Jeffrey Hunger, one of the researchers on the study and a recent University graduate.
 
 
“At what point do we stop letting quick and cheap win out over accurate?” Hunger said. “It’s miscategorizing millions of people as overweight or obese and unhealthy when they are actually perfectly fine when we look at other things like blood pressure and their blood sugar and things like that.” 
 
 
BMI uses a person’s weight and height to calculate a number from about 18.5 to 30 that is then used by major health organizations, like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, to report obesity trends nationwide and advise weight loss, he said.
 
 
“This really should be the final nail in the coffin for BMI because it’s not working,” Hunger said. “It’s not accurate. So why are we still using it?”
 
 
And people with healthy habits, such as football players, can weigh more, he said.
 
 
Eric Klein, head strength and conditioning coach for Gophers football, said the team stopped using BMI to measure players’ health years ago.
 
 
Instead, the team works with trainers and nutritionists to create a health plan, removing BMI from the equation, Klein said.
 
 
“If you were to take one of our offensive linemen, he might be borderline obese according to his BMI,” Klein said. “But really he’s pretty healthy.”
 
 
Still, BMI is used as a major indicator of health at the University, where about 9 percent of students were obese in 2015 based on Boynton Health Services survey BMI measures.
 
 
Boynton Communications Director Dave Golden said the service has no plans to exclude BMI calculations from their data, but refrains from advising students on their weight and health based on the number.
 
 
And though the school doesn’t offer faculty and staff a discount on their health insurance based on personal BMI, it’s common practice at workplaces nationwide.
 
 
“The United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has proposed rules allowing employers to penalize employees up to 30 percent of health insurance costs if they fail to meet ‘health’ criteria such as reaching a specific BMI,” the study said.
 
 
The University, instead, provides price cuts on faculty and staff insurance if they take part in the school’s Wellness Points Program, a point-based system that involves gym membership and health coaching.
 
 
Students labeled as overweight face a stigma, which can lead to poor exercise and eating habits, University psychology professor Traci Mann said. Studies show being overweight can also lead to unfair treatment in school and the workforce, she said.
 
 
“[Weight stigma] also makes people uncomfortable to go to the doctor,” Mann said. “And that in and of itself could lead to worse health problems.”