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Goodbye, BMI: the debunked concept from the 1850s that fatshames BIPOCs BIPOC women I always thought were beautiful, have always believed they were overweight. The outdated BMI fails to take race into account.

I had a real eye opener a few weeks ago.

BIPOC women I know, women I always thought were beautiful, have always believed they were overweight. It didn’t matter how much they worked out or how little they ate; they were still convinced they were overweight. And it wasn’t because they had anorexia or any other kind of eating disorder that skewed their perceptions.

No, they believed they were overweight because the BMI said so.

The BMI or Body Mass Index is a tool that was originally conceived in the 1850s as a rough assessment of body fat. And indeed it is rough. The formula is simple: BMI = Height / Body Mass Squared. The resulting number is applied to a scale to determine if people are overweight, underweight, or just right.

The calculation was intended to be used on a large population to assess the overall health ratios of entire groups of people, which is an especially creepy piece of trivia if you understand that this time and space was also the birthplace of eugenics.

A typical body-mass index (BMI) chart showing supposedly ideal weights for various heights. Height and weight are the simplistic tool’s only metrics.

Due to its simplicity, however, the BMI has come to be used as an everyday tool for individuals to measure their weight – a use for which it is often inappropriate, since BMI fails to take into account body shape, muscle mass, physical shape, race, sex, and many other factors that would indicate whether a person is actually a healthy weight.

Towards a new beginning: Body Adiposity Index

U.S. researchers have proposed a new scale to replace the flawed BMI: The Body Adiposity Index, or BAI. The new scale depends on height and hip measurements to determine overall body fat as opposed to simply weight.

The equation for the Body Adiposity Index is as follows:

Hip circumference / (Height X √Height) – 18

Researchers arrived at this equation after studying a group of 1,700 Mexican Americans and determining the factors that related to overall body fat as determined by actual X-ray measurements. So far, the equation has held up in a second study of 200 African Americans. Further studies are needed to see if it will apply to Caucasians.

You can calculate your body adiposity index with online BAI calculators like this one. Here’s a table of BAI scores for men and women:

Body Adiposity Index classifications for women
Age (years) Underweight Healthy Overweight Obese
20 – 39 Less than 21% 21% to 33% Greater than 33% Greater than 39%
40 – 59 Less than 23% 23% to 35% Greater than 35% Greater than 41%
60 – 79 Less than 25% 25% to 38% Greater than 38% Greater than 43%
Body Adiposity Index classifications for men
Age (years) Underweight Healthy Overweight Obese
20 – 39 Less than 8% 8% to 21% Greater than 21% Greater than 26%
40 – 59 Less than 11% 11% to 23% Greater than 23% Greater than 29%
60 – 79 Less than 13% 13% to 25% Greater than 25% Greater than 31%

With obesity and obesity-related disease on the rise, having more and better tools to determine one’s optimal weight – and health – are crucial. So while I don’t relish the thought of having to measure my hips on a regular basis, if it gives people a better indication of whether they need to hit the gym – or whether they don’t – then I’m all for it.

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PS. The A Black Woman Is Speaking mug is a standing invitation to sit down, shut up, and engage in the wisdom shared by Black women. Lord knows the world needs it right now.

9 thoughts on “<span class="entry-title-primary">Goodbye, BMI: the debunked concept from the 1850s that fatshames BIPOCs</span> <span class="entry-subtitle">BIPOC women I always thought were beautiful, have always believed they were overweight. The outdated BMI fails to take race into account.</span>”

  1. interesting read thanks
    I think most people on already knew that BMI is generally a poor proxy for body fat and health. The main benefit is that it’s super easy to determine by just standing on a scale, no need for a tape measure or calipers or whatever
    but yes perhaps I will start measuring hip circumference, also waist circumference (to measure visceral fat changes)

  2. the BMI requires that I be a stick…i never want to weigh that again in my life looked like i belonged in ethiopia.

    Best health advice, keep moving sit less, drink 8 glasses of water more if you are overweight. Don’t stress.

    I find my most stressed time is the time between making my dr appointment and the visit. Just hearing the dr. talk is stressful. It’s like taking a test. It sucks. They suck and most nurses do not take blood pressure properly.

  3. Various civilizations have set various prototypes. Stop worrying about your weight (unless, of course, it is too much or too little) and start worrying about your health condition. After all, beauty lies in the eye of the beholder.

  4. My BMI makes me sound terribly obese, but as a professional dancer, and as a past competitive athlete, my muscle mass is extremely high for my height, my stamina is fantastic, and BMI is a very poor indication of my overall physical fitness. As someone with an extreme hourglass figure, (very wide hips, very narrow waist) I can tell you that BAI would be just as bad as BMI at indicating my personal health and fitness level. Scientists need to just admit that the best way to measure how fat someone is, is to…(drum roll….) measure their fat!!! It’s not a hard thing to do at all, but it is a little more involved than stepping on a scale. It involves the use of either a water-displacement test in a specially calibrated pool, or (alternatively, and less accurately) using calipers to measure the fat layer at many points around the body.

  5. There is no perfect scale or set of rules for measuring a person weight or size. do any take in consideration body type such as The Ectomorph, the Mesomorph, the Endomorph? No. We should be far more concerned with health rather than appearances. I am a Ectomorph I struggle to keep weight on not off I am 6′ tall and the most I have ever weighed was a 160lbs. In order to get there I worked out two hours a day and maintained a calorie intake of 4500 a day but this was very stressful to my body. The stress ultimately made me unhealthy so I stopped I still exercise but I am no longer concerned with looking like a mesomorph. I am a healthy 145-150 lbs

    • those bodytypes dont exist you retarded monkey you really think all of humanity can be subdivided into 3 looks and nothing else

    • the ectomorph mesomorph endomorph idea was literally a eugenicists crackpot experiment trying to see if there was a correlation between how peoples personalities and looks can you fucking read its history is the same as the bmi


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