Body Mass Index (BMI)
Body Mass Index (BMI) is a number calculated from a person’s weight and height. BMI provides a reliable indicator of body fatness for most people and is used to screen for weight categories that may lead to health problems.
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Body mass index (BMI) or Quetelet Index is a statistical measure of the weight of a person scaled according to height. It was invented between 1830 and 1850 by the Belgian polymath, Adolphe Quetelet during the course of developing "social physics".
Body Mass Index (BMI) is one of the most accurate ways to determine when extra pounds translate into health risks. BMI is a measure which takes into account a person’s weight and height to gauge total body fat in adults. Someone with a BMI of 26 to 27 is about 20 percent overweight, which is generally believed to carry moderate health risks. A BMI of 30 and higher is considered obese. The higher the BMI, the greater the risk of developing additional health problems.
The BMI has become controversial because many people, including physicians, have come to rely on it for medical diagnosis - but that has never been the BMI's purpose. It is meant to be used as a simple means of classifying sedentary (physically inactive) individuals with an average (mesomorphic) body composition. For these individuals, the current value settings are as follows: a BMI of 25 may indicate optimal weight; a BMI lower than 25 suggests the person is underweight while a number above 25 may indicate the person is overweight; a BMI below 20 may indicate the person has an eating disorder; a number above 30 suggests the person is obese (over 40, morbidly obese).
The BMI is meant to broadly categorise populations for purely statistical purposes. As noted, its accuracy in relation to actual levels of body fat is easily distorted by such factors as fitness level, muscle mass, bone structure, sex, and ethnicity. People who are endomorphic or ectomorphic tend to have higher BMI numbers than people who are mesomorphic, because they have greater bone mass and greater muscle mass, respectively, than do mesopmorphic individuals.
A frequent use of the BMI is to assess how much an individual's body weight departs from what is normal or desirable for a person of his or her height. The weight excess or deficiency may, in part, be accounted for by body fat (adipose tissue) although other factors such as muscularity also affect BMI (see discussion below and overweight).
Human bodies rank along the index from around 15 (near starvation) to over 40 (morbidly obese). This statistical spread is usually described using categories: eg, severe underweight, underweight, optimum weight, pre-obese (or overweight), obese, morbidly obese. The exact index values used to determine weight categories vary from authority to authority, but in general a BMI less than 18.5 is underweight and may indicate malnutrition, an eating disorder, or other health problems, while a BMI greater than 25 is overweight and above 30 is considered obese. These range boundaries apply to adults over 20 years of age.
Given the reservations detailed below concerning the limitations of the BMI as a diagnostic tool for individuals, the following are common definitions of BMI categories:
Body mass index calculations are not just for adults—they can also be used to identify the growing number of overweight children. BMI for children aged 2 to 20 years is calculated just as it is for adults, but it is classified differently. Instead of set thresholds for underweight and overweight, it is their BMI percentile compared with children of the same gender and age that is important . A BMI that is less than the 5th percentile is considered underweight and above the 95th percentile is overweight. Children with a BMI between the 85th and 95th percentile are considered to be at risk of becoming overweight.
Recent studies in England have indicated that females between the ages 12 and 16 have a higher BMI than males by 1.0 kg/m˛ on average.
Heart disease, diabetes and high blood pressure are all linked to being overweight. A BMI of 30 and over increases the risk of death from any cause by 50 to 150 percent, according to some estimates. According to health experts, people who are overweight but have no other health risk factors (such as high cholesterol or high blood pressure) should eat healthier and exercise to keep from gaining additional weight. For people who are overweight and also have health risks, they recommend trying to actively lose weight. Be sure to consult your doctor or other health professional before beginning any exercise or weight-loss program.
In June 1998, the federal government announced guidelines which create a new definition of a healthy weight -- a BMI of 24 or less. So now a BMI of 25 to 29.9 is considered overweight. Individuals who fall into the BMI range of 25 to 34.9, and have a waist size of over 40 inches for men and 35 inches for women, are considered to be at especially high risk for health problems.
These recommended distinctions along the linear scale may vary from time to time and country to country, making global, longitudinal surveys problematic. In 1998, the U.S. National Institutes of Health brought U.S. definitions into line with WHO guidelines, lowering the normal/overweight cut-off from BMI 27.8 to BMI 25. This had the effect of redefining approximately 30 million Americans, previously "technically healthy" to "technically overweight". It also recommends lowering the normal/overweight threshold for South East Asian body types to around BMI 23, and expects further revisions to emerge from clinical studies of different body types.
For Asians, the new cut-off BMI index for obesity is 27.5 compared with the traditional WHO figure of 30. An Asian adult with a BMI of 23 or greater is now considered overweight and the ideal normal range is 18.5-22.9.
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