Can BMI really weigh-up your health?

Thursday, 21 July 2016


Most of us have tried to crack the code on our lifestyle habits – have we been eating well or exercising enough to stay healthy? You’d think the trusty bathroom scale would be a good enough indicator of this right? Well, actually not, that’s why the term BMI (Body Mass Index) has been floating around for decades. It’s a calculation based on your weight and height that places your health neatly in the categories of ideal, underweight, overweight, and obese.

But does it all add up? One of our readers asked, “I’ve heard that BMI isn’t the best indicator of a healthy weight. Is this true?”

Health Expert Dr. Kruger from Health Renewal shed some light on the topic.

BMI may not be the best indicator for healthy weight, but it is a good guideline or screening tool.

The biggest drawback with BMI is that the calculation cannot distinguish between body fat and muscle. This means that very toned or muscular people are sometimes considered ‘overweight’ according to their BMI, because muscles are much heavier than fat.

BMI also doesn’t distinguish between different types of fat. Belly fat or visceral fat (deep fat found around our organs) is much more dangerous than fat under the skin. Relatively thin people with a normal BMI can have a high percentage of visceral fat, which is dangerous and unhealthy.

Some consider waist circumference a much better marker for indicating healthy weight, since fat in the tummy area is the biggest target for visceral fat compared to hips or thighs. To find yours simply stand straight, relax and use measuring tape to measure around your waist (below the rib cage and above the belly button). In general, risks increase for measurements over 94cm for men and 80 cm for women. A circumference of more than 102cm in men and 88cm in women is associated with an increased risk for heart disease, high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes.

You can also check your waist to hip ratio. To do this, find your waist circumference using the same steps as above. Then find your hip circumference by measuring around the widest part of your buttocks. Divide the size of your waist by the size of your hips, and compare it to these scores: if it’s less than 0.90 for males and above 0.85 for females, then you are considered a healthy ‘pear’ shape. If it’s above, you’re considered ‘apple-shaped’, which points towards a more problematic distribution of body fat along with increased health risks.


End the Guess-Work

The tips above are good guidelines, but they’re far from certain. A bioelectrical impedance scale, such as the Inbody used at Health Renewal, is probably the best method to use. It sends tiny electrical impulses into the body through the feet, and measures how quickly they return. This gives a really good indication of your lean muscle mass, skeletal mass and fat mass percentages to show potential health risks with accuracy.

Elevated insulin levels also cause dangerous visceral fat deposits. It may be useful to monitor insulin with fasting blood tests, where you refrain from everything but water for 8 to 12 hours prior, so that you can keep those levels in check.

Got a question for our experts? Ask them here.



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Tell your friends

    I’m quite thin but have some flab on the tummy area. Guess I gotta watch what I eat and start exercising!

    3 years ago •

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