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.
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|
|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|
|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.