Okay. There’s something we all have to collectively talk about. We need to pull our fingers out of our ears, open our eyes and be grownups about the fact that we all know that BMI is complete and utter bullshit.
We know this because of science. We know this because even from it’s creation over two hundred years ago by a mathematician who had absolutely no knowledge of health studies whatsoever, the inventor of the entire system said it shouldn’t be used to measure a person’s health. The dude in question, Lambert Adolphe Jacques Quetelet, was the kind of guy who liked using math to try and find the definition of a “normal man.” Average arm strength, average hair growth, average age that people get married. He loved averages. One of the things he explored was the standard human build, drafting a formula in 1832 that would compare weight and height to determine this factor. And not surprisingly, no one in the medical community cared. It wasn’t a medical study, it was in no way related to health– just discovering various mediums in human society.
Fast forward several decades to the early 1900’s, and we have — surprise surprise — insurance companies who’re deciding that measuring health based off of a simple formula would just be way fucking easier, you know? I mean, this way you don’t have to go through all those long, tedious, expensive tests. So they started funding studies into obesity. Not in the interest of health, but with the motivation of cost cutting. If they could prove people who were fat were a large risk to insurance companies, they could charge them more for coverage or outright deny them insurance for being too high a risk.
But even then the studies concluded that height and weight were little more than a loose proxy to someone’s actual health; a sign that maybe if their BMI was over this level they should get exams to make sure they aren’t unhealthy.
Let’s fast-forward again, 1972. Enter Ancel Keys, a researcher who had spent some time trying to figure out which set of height-weight measurements were the best, the most accurate, and determined that Quetelet’s won. He’s the one who renamed it “Body Mass Index.”
It caught on faster than bad hygiene at an anime convention.
Suddenly doctors were using BMI to determine a patient’s health. To determine your body fat index, when in reality absolutely nothing in this formula calculates fat. It simply compares your weight to your height, which is a horrible and arbitrary way to determine a person’s health, or even their fat content. How many football players do you think would land in a healthy BMI range?
But wait! There’s more!
In 1998, people started taking a hard look at BMI again. It was an old formula, crafted loosely and based on height and weight from individuals from the early 1800’s. A lot’s changed about our bodies since then. We have different healthcare options, better medications, longer life spans. Clearly new studies needed to be done if we wanted this already woefully inaccurate standard to apply to people with the diets and medications we have available to us today.
So naturally, they made it so even more people are considered obese now than were before.
Someone who is 5 feet, 10 inches (1.8 meters) tall and weighs 185 pounds (83 kg) was considered overweight under the old guidelines. Now, for the same height, 175 pounds (79 kg) is overweight and 209 pounds (94 kg) is obese.
Or, put another way, 25 million Americans who weren’t fat before, are now. Even under the previous standards, more than half of all adult Americans are overweight.
Why would they do that? Why would the scale suddenly slide backwards, given that it’s even easier for people to be healthier now than before? Where it’s even easier to be simultaneously fat and healthy? I’m willing to put my theory out there.
Insurance companies are greedy fucks.
They don’t care about making sure people are healthy because they’re privately owned. They’re corporations. Their loyalty is to their company shareholders and making sure they stay in the black– earn more of a profit. And I’m sure you’d be surprised to hear that insurance companies started reporting increased profits in 1998, not that that’s news. I mean, they were making insane profits during the recession. You know, that period of time where record numbers of people were unemployed and therefore had no insurance, so you know. Shouldn’t get sick if you can’t afford to be, you jobless scum!
There was the chart prior to 1998. Go ahead, find your spot on it. I’ll wait.
Now, here’s where you are now. See any difference?
And for the record, it was actually really really hard to find a chart that went over 250lbs. Apparently fifteen years ago all people over 250lbs ceased to be humans. Oh, and so you know how to easily identify the horribly obese on the streets, here’s a handy chart that shows you what they’ll look like at their varying stages.
BMI is a construct that was originally created as a general measurement of medians and has exploded into a tool for body shaming that actually makes no sense whatseover. What on earth can you tell me about my body or my health by arbitrarily smashing two numbers together? What do my weight and height have to do with each other?
Zip. Zero. Nada. And there’s a fantastic gallery I found via the awesome people at Shakesville that shows you exactly how stupid the whole thing is: The Illustrated BMI Gallery. Here are a few gems for you who’re too lazy/impatient/at work to click through the whole thing.
Go check the whole thing out for yourself if you can– it’s really eye opening to how arbitrary the BMI system is (which, by the way, in some cases doesn’t even differentiate between men and women). Insurance companies are pretty much the last people we should trust insofar as determining our health goes, especially privatized ones.