Body Mass Index: An Incomplete Gauge of Obesity Risk

What would you say about a man who is 6’2 and 235 lbs? If you couldn’t see him, how could you assess whether or not he was at risk for obesity related illnesses? The obvious tool has been to calculate his Body Mass Index, or BMI. You can calculate this by dividing his weight (235 lbs) by his height in inches squared (5476) then multiply by 703 to get the BMI which in this case is 30.2. You can also use various reputable websites to get to the same figure by just inputting his height and weight. According to these websites, a BMI of 30 or greater is considered obese. Simple right?

What if I told you that this mystery man was Arnold Schwarzenegger at the peak of his bodybuilding career, would you still think he was obese? Probably not.

The problem with BMI is that it only considers height and weight, and fails to acknowledge body composition. Therefore when used solely as an obesity gauge, people with high muscle compositions may end up in the obese range while people with high fat, low muscle compositions may end up in the normal range.

Even though it is flawed, the BMI is still an important component to determining obesity and potential health risk. The National Institute of Health believes that combining BMI, your waist measurement in inches, and taking into consideration your current and genetic risk factors for obesity related diseases provides the best picture at your current and potential risk. More specifically, your risk for heart disease and type 2 diabetes increases in women with waist measurements of 35 inches or greater and men with waist measurements of 40 inches or greater. This is something a BMI clearly cannot determine.

Remember, the Body Mass Index is just a tool in the fight against obesity but it is not the only tool. You wouldn’t fix a house with just a hammer so why limit yourself to just one tool when looking to improve yourself?

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Listen to your heart…

Heart disease. To you it may just be two words on a website but to thousands of families each year, these words are much more devastating.

The word “heart disease” covers a variety of heart afflictions including the most common type, coronary artery disease. Coronary artery disease is caused by the narrowing of the arteries, which are the vessels that supply blood to your heart, due to a build up of plaque (cholesterol deposits). Heart disease is the #1 cause of death for both men and women in the United States, and it is estimated that one in every four Americans will die because of it.

Many people are unaware of how at risk they are for heart disease. Men are more likely to develop heart disease but women also have an increased risk following menopause. As we age our risk for heart disease is greater as well. It is also important to check your blood pressure and cholesterol levels often because both high blood pressure and high cholesterol puts you at a higher risk for developing heart disease. Do not forget to know your family history. Many people fail to recognize disease patterns in their families and many times your family history can be your first warning to what may lie ahead.

This is what heart disease looks like

Still not worried? Chances are you are not living the best heart healthy lifestyle.

If you smoke, STOP! Not just because it increases your risk of heart disease but for so many reasons.

If you eat poorly, change your diet because you are what you eat. If you eat a diet full of junk it is likely that your heart will suffer the consequences. Try to limit your fat, sugar, and salt intake, your entire body will thank you.

If you are obese or physically inactive, then get moving. Being obese will increase your risk for exacerbating some of heart diseases risk factors such as diabetes. Exercising can help you lose weight and decrease your risk of heart disease. It’s a win win! (Note: exercise is just as important for people who are not obese. Your heart is a muscle so it should be worked out as well)

If you are stressed, whether it be school, work, or life in general find a way to alleviate it. Stress can damage blood vessels and may increase the likelihood of developing heart disease through various risk factors. If changing your job or school load is not an option, find ways to relieve your stress like reading a book at night or doing yoga. Even deep breathing for five minutes can be extremely effective at relieving stress.

My final advice…take care of your heart because you only get one.