A Look At The Skewed BMI: Fittest Athletes Considered Overweight. You?

January 15, 2018

Hard to fathom a professional athlete could ever be overweight. But, according to the body mass index, many are.

The century-old BMI has come under attack by experts, of late, who lament that the index charts a person’s healthy weight based only on height and weight.

It doesn’t take into account body fat, muscle mass, body frame size or even gender. During the peak of his NBA playing career? Michael Jordan would have been considered overweight, according to the BMI. WWE superstar John Cena is considered morbidly obese.

So what gives? And how in the world can the average person go about finding a healthy weight?

As a New Year kicks off – with 45 percent of people setting a resolution to lose weight -- we asked IU Health’s Bryland Sutton how we can find our own healthy weight.

Sutton beside treadmill

Sutton, a certified exercise physiologist, is fitness coordinator for IU Health’s seven fitness centers.

A person’s ideal weight, he says, is what they weigh if they are eating appropriately -- getting proper nutrition and not too many calories -- exercising three to five days per week, practicing good sleep hygiene and staying properly hydrated.

In other words, there is no magic number. Two women, both 5-5, may have very different ideal weights even when they both are engaged in a healthy lifestyle.

Sutton’s take on BMI?

“BMI can be misleading, but for a majority of the population it is at least a guide,” Suttons says, “even if it is a little skewed.”

A mathematician created the index more than 100 years ago, intended as a simple way to measure populations of people, not individuals.

But in the mid-1980s, doctors started using the BMI to gauge an individual’s risk of developing diseases such as diabetes, stroke and heart disease.

Decades later, researches have found out that the BMI isn’t an indicator for such health risks. It underestimates the amount of body fat in overweight or obese people and overestimates it in lean or muscular people.

So, take the BMI as a guide, but with a grain of salt.

There are plenty of ideal weight body calculators that can be found online that take into account body frame type, gender, age, height, weight, body fat and muscle mass.

A couple other health tips from Sutton as the New Year begins.

Best way to start a fitness regimen?

“Consistency is the key to getting started and maintaining fitness,” he says. “It is better to exercise seven days a week for 20 minutes than two to three days per week for an hour. Consistency also implies weekly, monthly, yearly consistency.”

Are there any popular fad diets you see working for people?

“Not really. Many of those work in the short term – six months to two years -- but in most cases those people gain all the weight back and more,” Sutton says. “The best diet is one which includes proper amounts of carbohydrates (the right kind, not processed), protein and fat along with only an adequate number of calories overall. Not too many and not too few.”

-- By Dana Benbow, Senior Journalist at IU Health.
 Reach Benbow via email dbenbow@iuhealth.org or on Twitter @danabenbow.

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