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The Problematic History of the BMI

When it comes to mental and physical health, we cannot ignore the structures and systems that have been put in place by our society. The BMI is an example of a figure that is wildly inaccurate yet controls so much of our lives. Here’s a brief history of the BMI and the problems that came with it.

Did you know that the BMI was made up by a mathematician? 200 years ago, he wanted to measure the average height and weight of white, European men and use that average as the ideal.  

Even with its inherently problematic roots, the mathematician who dreamt up the BMI shared explicitly that it should not be used to measure body fat. 

Yes, you read that right. The BMI that we still use today is based on a study of exclusively white men. This excludes all other races and ethnicities as well as women and children. And as a reminder, it was not intended to be used to measure body fat. 

Why does this matter for athletes? We use this measurement for insurance purposes, health measures, comparing ourselves to others and so much more. The reality is that it’s complete nonsense and that should matter to everyone. 

Weight, size and body type are poor indicators of health. And for that matter, BMI doesn’t indicate your level of athleticism or your abilities. 

Coming from a point of thin privilege, I know that my experiences do not compare with others but as a fitness professional, I’m determined to educate those who have not had these experiences. The BMI is not helpful or accurate and is harmful to so many individuals. 

Please share this to spread the word and remind your friends that BMI does not define anyone.

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