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Live Well: Beyond BMI

January 19, 2024


Weight is often overemphasized as a benchmark for wellbeing, but it isn’t the only metric that matters. Thinness isn’t always synonymous with good health, and higher weights aren’t always associated with poor health. When it comes to setting healthy intentions, it’s good to measure your health in a variety of ways.

Body Mass Index (BMI) is a controversial weight-related metric that has been used since the 1800s as a proxy for body fatness. However, because it cannot distinguish the difference between fat mass and non-fat mass (muscle, water, bone, and organs), it has limited utility.

It is well-known that BMI doesn’t accurately estimate body fat in certain groups, such as those who have lower muscle mass (older adults) or higher muscle mass (athletes). It also doesn’t account for individual differences in race, gender, age, and ethnicity.

Despite these limitations, healthcare providers have used BMI as a screening tool for years. Fortunately, that may be changing. The American Medical Association recently issued a policy encouraging providers to use BMI only when used alongside other metrics.

While there are many others, here are some alternative health metrics to consider when monitoring your wellbeing:

  • Blood pressure
  • Body temperature
  • Resting heart rate
  • Blood/Lab work
  • Sleep patterns or quality
  • Flexibility
  • Strength
  • Severity of symptoms
  • Waist Circumference
  • Body composition
  • Energy levels
  • Quality of life

It is also important to pay attention to changes in your metrics over time. This can help you identify patterns in your health. For example, if your cholesterol levels have been slowly rising over the past couple of years, it may indicate that it is time to make some lifestyle adjustments.

Ask your healthcare provider for guidance on which metrics are most relevant for your unique health needs, and speak up if you feel your weight is being overemphasized as a marker of your wellbeing.

Using a single reference point to measure anything is generally not advisable. It is not a good idea for measuring your health either.