The BMI Is Getting Old

I understand why the Body Mass Index (BMI) was created — it’s so much easier to let the computer divide two numbers (mass (kg) / height^2 (m)) than to implement some kind of bodyfat measurement. But using it as a metric to inform people whether they are healthy or not? Are you kidding me?

The general public was introduced to the BMI in the late 1990s as an initiative for healthy eating and exercise. If the government didn’t officially recommend a shitty diet in the first place, we wouldn’t have as large of a problem, but that’s another story altogether. In any case, Americans who are ignorant in the realm of health and/or exercise bought into this crappy hysteria, thinking that if they were “overweight” by the BMI standards (AKA government standards), then they needed to lose weight (ignoring body composition completely). The BMI is horse puckey because it doesn’t take into account lean body mass; it is merely a ratio of height and weight. This means that anybody who has some muscle (i.e. adult males) are considered, at the very least, overweight. And now that I think about it, I blame the government for acting as the catalyst that made America think being small is not only okay, but preferred. This is what we’re up against folks; government and society.

Anyway, this article points out how Mike Tyson (in his prime) is considered “obese”, and Lance Armstrong is considered “overweight”. On a similar note, the military uses the BMI to gauge health in their preventative health assessments. Not to mention the Air Force’s PT test includes a waist circumference measure that accounts for 30% of their total grade. And height isn’t taken into account, so a 6’7″ guy in the Air Force (I’ve met one) is measured to the same standards as a 5’7″ guy. And this somehow makes sense…?

Click to see the BMI chart

Look America, the BMI is getting old. I don’t know how you’re going to gauge the health of your citizens — the logistics are your problem. But this index is convincing everybody to be pretty much small and worthless, and that is despicable. There are plenty of bodyfat measures, although all the bio-impedence tools are almost as worthless as a 135 pound “guy”.

Weakling society and stupid regulations aside, the BMI is branding anybody who is decently strong as “unhealthy” when this couldn’t be further from the truth. When strength is maintained properly throughout life, it serves as the primary aid in old age. Get strong, stay strong, train/exercise consistently, eat moderately healthy, and you’ll be prepared for longevity to the best of your ability. If you can ignore the doctor claiming that you’re obese…

51 thoughts on “The BMI Is Getting Old

  1. Great post, Justin. Some things I took away from the article and chart:
    – At a little over 6’1″, I can be “healthy” at 140 lbs.
    – You must be at least 6’4″ in order to not be considered “overweight” at 200 lbs.
    – Take note that this chart provides “Overweight”, “Obese”, and “Extremely Obese” on the higher-end of the weight spectrum, but only “Underweight” on the light-end; why are there no “Extremely Underweight” and “Starving Third-World-Country Inhabitant” rankings?
    – And, to those who are primarily concerned with aesthetic appeal (i.e. “looks”), even bodybuilders are considered overweight, and guys like Arnold would be ranked either “Obese” or “Extremely Obese”–I can’t say exactly since this chart states that we should all be under 215 lbs.

  2. AH HA! The government considers me to be overweight at 5’10” 175 lbs. First time I’ve heard anything other than not weighing enough for my frame. Still complete crap, but at the same time kind of nice to hear in an odd way.

  3. Speaking as an “obese” guy, BMI is a load of phooey for describing individuals. No sane person who saw me with my shirt off would call me obese, but there the number is. This holds for many individuals. That said, anyone who uses the measurement to describe individuals is just plain using it wrong, and it isn’t the measurement’s fault that some people don’t know how to use it. BMI is more appropriately used to describe populations – if you have one group with an average BMI of X and another group with an average BMI of Y and X>Y, no one should feel bad for saying that the first group is probably fatter than the second. We should accept that we, the 70s Big, are by far the exceptions, and that this measurement applies fairly to far more people than not.

  4. Ok so let me get this straight. I am 5’11. So when i was crossfitting religiously and weighed 185lbs @ 8% bodyfat i was OVERWEIGHT?! I had a fucking 6 minute mile! This chart is a piece of shit. “Obese” @ 215 my big fat muscular ass! Even when i weighed 225 and gained too much fat from bread and beer i wasnt obese! Just a little softer thats all. “Obese” PFT!

  5. So wait..I think a simple substitution should take care of any confusion…

    overweight = normal
    obese = 70sbig
    extremely obese = extremely 70sbig?

  6. On sunday I saw an old friend from high school who is 6’2 and just under 160. He’s a drug addict. Looks like a stereotypical drug addict. He was arrested a couple of weeks ago and as part of that drug arrest he had to undergo a physical before he could start rehab. He was very happy when the doctors told him he had a very healthy BMI and he should be thankful he still had his health.

    How fucked up is this BMI crap? Calling people healthy cause they weigh the same as a drug addict?

    Seems to suggest that there are only two real options for getting a healthy BMI:

    1. Eat very little while “exercising” alot.

    2. Maintain a healthy diet of Cocaine, Xanax, and oxycontin.

    My buddy asked me what he should do to put on weight and I told him to drink a gallon of milk a day, he replied “That sounds unhealthy.”
    Thanks BMI.

  7. You know something’s up when I’d have to weigh 115 lbs at 5’7″ to be considered underweight. As an obese person who can chin with 60%bw extra, I can safely say I haven’t weighed that since 6th grade.

  8. Justin – typo in your formula, BMI is mass (kg) / height^2 (m)

    I don’t think BMI is a bad measure per se, it’s how you use it. BMI is meant to be used as a simple, broad measure for the sedentary population, which it is reasonable for. It is there to tell the aveage couch potato if he is in a high risk category for heart disease. Not to substitute for proper testing, but to give a guide.

    It certainly isn’t an accurate assessment tool and it’s laughable that anyone applies it to a vaguely atheltic person. For the military to use it is a joke, and of course anyone looking at this site isn’t going to fit into the norms.

    Thanks for the typo correction. Seems my error percentage is higher.


  9. Another big problem with BMI measurement is that health insurance are using this system to classify their risks. If your BMI is not “green” you will pay more when you subscribe to it and this is quite not pleasant…

  10. Ya my boyfriend in the army deals with this every couple of months. What an amazing rating system. At 5’11” and 200+ he is considered fat and useless.apparently the army would rather have anorexic runners who can’t pick up shit.

  11. I was active duty Army and I’m in the National Guard now. I’ve never heard the term BMI used and if you are above your max allowable weight all you have to do is pass a PT test and pass a tape test which involves a measurement of your neck and abdomen. If you pass it no one says a word. At least in my experience.

    The Air Force runs into quite a bit of trouble with waist circumference. And there’s no way around it. Yet.


  12. For athletic people, it’s a terrible measure, and for the sedentary, it’s only moderately bad.

    Using BMI leads to UNDER-estimates of the rate of obesity. In a sample of 555 women, the number of obese jumped over 70% when bodyfat % was used instead – 35%+ bodyfat for women, as the sample was all women. Source: The study oversampled certain races, so it’s not perfectly representative of the population.

    BMI is only used because the respective institutions are too lazy to teach people how to use body fat calipers. It’s laughable that all this research is conducted using BMI when it’s such a screwy measure. The Marines and Army do use tape tests which estimate body fat if you fall outside the weight height guidelines.

    It’s a little shocking that doctors buy into it, as well as all the other bad nutrition advice supplied by the government, American Heart Association, etc.

    Thanks for the study.


  13. Im a 6 foot 2 adult male. At the doctors office sometime last year it was said I am around fifty pounds overweight… I was at 240 then and the doctor informed me that I could stand to get to 180 or 190… bmi is complete bullshit. I have athlete friends in excellent condition, strength and look who have all been told similar things.

    Guess I better go pick up a well balanced less than 2000 calorie diet and hit the treadmill for the next six months… gotta get that bmi fixed.

  14. I’m in the Air Force and I think the waist measurement doesn’t do many people justice. The test rewards skinny weak people. There was an NCO in my unit who could max out their push ups, sit ups, and nearly max their run but had a 42″ waist which failed him. There was talk of him getting kicked out of the Air Force. If the government wants to base their test on endurance, I think it should be based on performance and not “body composition.” If you can outrun everyone but have a large waist, it shouldn’t matter. I knew another person in the Air Force who was a Division I 800m track and cross country runner who was 6’3″ or so and could run the 1.5 mile run in 7:15 easy. His 35″ hips didn’t allow him to max the PT test. On July 1st, they are changing the test standards, however, the waist measurement still is 20% of the test.

    The 6’7″ guy I know can run the 1.5 mile in 10 or 11 minutes, but he barely passes the waist circumference. He’s a muscular, trim guy at 260 — of course his waist is going to be thick at that height.


  15. “If the government didn’t officially recommend a shitty diet in the first place, we wouldn’t have as large of a problem, but that’s another story altogether.”

    – I think you could at least do a post or five on this topic alone.

    Correct. I’ll probably leave it to the big dawgs though. Maybe we’ll do a nutrition post and let everyone post sources to stuff that they’ve read and debate it.


  16. BMI may be in the running for silliest things ever. I had a guy train with me who was in the army. He was 5’10 250lbs, and thus “morbidly obese.” Nevermind his 705lb deadlift, 20+ pullups, or 6:30 mile.

    6:30 mile at 250? Damn.


  17. As far as the Air Force goes, the way I understand it is that the Physical Fitness Test has more to do with money than with performance. They looked at the long-term health care costs and tried to correlate those to specific factors. Does a 250 lbs adult male at 6’0″ have a greater risk of health issues in the long run than a 180 lbs boy at 6’0″? I don’t know the answer to that. If yes, then money runs the world once again. Fine. If no, then I guess keep chalking it up to stupidity.

  18. I will throw in my two cents, I am 6’2, 235; thus obese :)

    I work as a physical therapist and have treated many women who have a perfect BMI, run marathons but have pain in their knees due to severe weak hip abductors. They cannot do an unweighted squat, nor can they even do a side lying straight leg raise; but at least their BMI is good.

    As far as the long term health goes as aidrius mentioned, yes on average heavier people will die sooner as you do not see too many morbidly obese 80-90 year olds.

    Funny side note I once saw a quiz question that asked if it was more green of you to be “fit” and healthy or overweight and sedentary. They stated that although the overweight person will consume more resources while alive, they will on average not be around as long so the total resources consumed by the skinny “fit” person will be more in the long run.

  19. 100% True.

    I have yet to find doctor that told me to gain weight. They use their flashy BMI calcs to tell me that at a “bulky” 6’1” and 184 lbs, i need to lose weight to fit into their curve. Then again..when i was at 150 lbs, they told me to gain weight. It may have some use for the average couch potato, but for atheletes, this is a silly thing indeed.

  20. Overweight people live longest, more than normal weight people. Source: NYT –

    Overweight people live 6-7 years longer than skinny people, among the Japanese. Source:

    Most of the 90’s small think fat is ugly, but they’re too cowardly to say that out loud, so they say they stay thin for their ‘health.’

    Me no like the NY Times.


  21. By the BMI, at 6 feet I was considered healthy at 140 lbs. I used to be 140 lbs and believe me, I was not healthy. Now at 220 lbs, I’m obese. Silly bull*@#$ by definition. Maybe you can judge for yourselves in the “before and after contest” this month.

    As Justin pointed out, the BMI is exactly what it says it is: an Index of Body Mass. It does not care what kind of mass it is. For the sedentary person, perhaps most of the mass is fat, perhaps not. For the athlete, perhaps the mass is muscle. BMI does not distinguish: mass is mass.

  22. Funny part was, the BMI really fit me back before I started training. Three or so years ago I was 5’11” and 230, with 40% bodyfat. I was completely detrained, probably couldn’t squat 135 or deadlift 200 back then. Overweight/borderline obese fit me pretty accurately.

    Fast forward three years, and I’m 200, trying to get back to 225, except this time it’s more like 15% bf and putting on muscle. Weight’s just a number, and I have to laugh at the BMI now. Definitely agree that it really doesn’t apply for anyone with any sort of athletic bent, let alone strength/power athletes.

  23. 20repsquats

    “That won’t be happening from 2014 on, because of the Health Care reform law.”

    Oh, allright! Actually I am living in France, so I am not aware of how things really work in USA. But here, in France, you better be small like a shrimp! :)

  24. Last week I got really freaked out at the doctor’s office because my blood pressure was 160/88. Then I started thinking you know “i need to lose weight… blah, blah, blah…”. Now, I am 5’6″ 175lbs. I squatted 290 recently, did a 165 press, 240 bench, and deadlifted 315 for 5 easy, powercleaned 185 for 3 as well. I’m not as ripped as I was at 150, but I’m still lean. My resting pulse is 50, I did a workout called “Fran” in 3:03, which is two minutes faster than when I weighed 150, and I ran a sub 20 minute 5-k a couple of months ago. My question is this: despite the fact that my fitness level would appear to have increased with this weight gain, would my blood pressure go down if I lost weight?

    Thanks for any help. I really learn a lot from this site.

    I would suspect your diet first. When I was doing boydbuilding stuff back in the day, I was eating lots of carbs. When I got into CF, I ate more paleo, and my blood pressure went from 145/65ish to 110/65ish. I changed my style of training then, but I chalk it up to the change in diet. I don’t know what my blood pressure is now (I’d like to know), though.


  25. The National Committee for Quality Assurance (NCQA) is a not for profit organization committed to assessing, reporting on and improving the quality of health care. NCQA measures the quality of health care by collecting medical data related to breast cancer screening, childhood immunizations, diabetes and several other areas of preventative health services and reports the outcomes to state agencies and to the public. So this s a very high profile agency that is pushing out this information to the public and healthcare payors. Just this year, NCQA introduced two new quality metrics, Adult BMI Assessment, and Weight Assessment and Counseling for Nutrition and Physical Activity for Children/Adolescents. These measures incorporate BMI assessments and percentiles as part of the quality indicators. Just as we think BMI readings are obsolete, this organization releases these two new metrics.

  26. Quick question about duration of workout. Was just wondering what your guys’s thoughts were on lifting for more than about an hour at a time, and whether or not that could be over-training.

    I have had work-outs as long as three and a half hours. Squatting alone usually takes an hour and a half. Usually over-training would involve not recovering FROM a workout. I think you will be fine.


    I think AC just dicks around a lot at the gym. I’ve had some pretty long workouts too, though. I don’t think I’ve had a workout under an hour in the past year. But he and I use training as competition prep, not just general strength training for health.


  27. As a moderately muscular individual (not 70’s big in the least) the BMI has always fascinated me. As a 6’1″, 160# cross country runner I was tiny and weak, but “healthy” by BMI standards. As a 6’1″, 230# starting strengther I am drastically more useful to myself, the Corps, and humanity in general. I still see myself as a skinny bastard, mostly because I am, but the Corps would have it another way. I guess the military will always prefer lighter and smaller over bigger and heavier, if only because smaller people are easier to transport and feed. Most guys can’t carry a guy weighing close to 300 pounds, with gear, when he gets hit. But that’s why we should be doing more squats.

  28. I think faulting the BMI itself is a bit shortsighted. It was never intended for use on individuals or small groups- yes it gets used that way all the the time but that’s more the fault of the people using it.
    Use it for population level research however…and it works all right. Not great, not perfect but a hell of a lot cheaper than trying for measurements or a caliper test when you’re doing something like an epidemiological study and your sample size is in the thousands. And at the end of the day, it’ll give you about the same numbers. Those of us that aspire to 70’s big are a small small minority, most 6ft 225lb guys are that weight because of their pizza and burgers habit, not their squats and milk habit.

    I was hoping someone would post this. I haven’t had the energy to talk about BMI for five years.


  29. @ Justin

    I posted yesterday and today.

    Ha, I noticed, mainly because I imagine your within-regs-mustache mugshot pic. Gold star.


  30. @A.C.
    Wow, three and a half hours – are you sure you’re not getting distracted by the mirror? “two tickets to the gun show, please…” : )

    There is always this handsome man looking back at me. Hard not to look.


    On an unrelated topic, has anyone come across this beast? It got a bit of media coverage down here in australia the other week

  31. I’m 5’4″ 180lbs and stronger than I’ve ever been thanks to the 70s big oly and starting strength program.

    I fought this good fight for years while I was in the Navy. It’s kind of sad that basically someone had to fudge my neck and waist measurements to get me to pass the body composition test. Never mind that I can run 1.5 mile in sub 10 min and max the push-ups and sit-ups.

    Their policies need to change to stop punishing those with athletic builds. It seems pretty hypocritical for a service that preaches physical readiness.

    Does this nation want to be sending 90s small men to war? I think not.

  32. @KennyG

    I heard that in the USN fitness test you can choose to do the run portion on an elliptical machine – is that true? Sounds crazy to me, but, you never know these days!

  33. There was a job I was interested in 6 or 7 years ago and the BMI was one of the official requirements you had to meet. I’m 5’10 and at the time I was somewhere in the area of 210-220lbs. I wasn’t even allowed to test for the position because I was “obese” by their chart.

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