With the release of the COVID-19 vaccines, body mass index (BMI) is a trendy topic these days.
Some states are including BMI, along with age and pre-existing health conditions, as an early qualifier for receiving the vaccine because obesity has been connected to more severe cases of the virus.
BMI, of course, is calculated by dividing a person’s weight by the square of their height. (Here’s a handy chart) The concept was created around 1930 by an insurance company to quantify the health and risk of employees.
However, and despite its longevity and relevance in the medical field, BMI is not a true diagnostic of body fatness or of an individual’s overall health.
Moreover, it can’t accurately account for blood pressure, blood sugar, cholesterol or even sexual potency — it just makes a blanket assumption of someone’s health based on what they weigh relative to their height.
It’s a bit like seeing someone with a neck tattoo and assuming straight away they’re a criminal or ex-con.
Polls and Trends Fact: According to the BMI calculator metric, pro athletes LeBron James, at 6’9″ 230 lbs, and Tom Brady, at 6’4″ 225 lbs, are obese.
Not surprisingly, based on data from the U.S. National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, researchers found that the BMI calculator metric incorrectly assumed people’s health at both ends of the weight scale. Millions who had been classed as overweight or obese were, upon subsequent review, deemed quite healthy based on their blood pressure, blood sugar, heart rate and cholesterol levels.
Conversely, millions were classified with a “normal” BMI but were later determined to be unhealthy based their cardiometabolic measures.
Was the BMI calculator metric based on a few skinny 18 year old White boys 90 years ago? After all, it was conceived by White men using models of White males. And that further impacts the metric’s reliability.
“When compared to white Europeans of the same BMI, Asians appear to have a four percent higher total body fat. South Asians, in particular, have especially high levels of abdominal obesity, which can throw off the BMI measurement as well.”Fitness expert Brock Armstrong in Scientific American’s Is BMI an Accurate Way to Measure Body Fat?
And let’s not forget, even within the races an individual’s natural body shape can vary quite a bit. Some people, for example, naturally have wider shoulders, larger hips and bigger breasts than others.
So while BMI is probably still the best metric we have for attempting to determine obesity, it’s quite flawed and should never be the sole data point used to make judgments about someone’s health or overall level of fitness.
It’s used simply because there is no other way to quickly guesstimate someone’s health risks.
As for COVID-19 vaccinations… If your BMI qualifies you for an early vaccination even though you run 5 miles per day and feel great, don’t feel bad about taking advantage of the flaw.
What’s probably the best indicator you should get the vaccine early if you don’t have serious pre-existing conditions and are below 65?
Answer: Shortness of breath (although I’m not a doctor)
Because breathing trouble is a major COVID-19 symptom, anyone who experiences occasional problems breathing while resting or walking at a slow to moderate pace regardless of distance should probably try to get vaccinated as soon as possible.