Body Mass Index (BMI)

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Body Mass Index (BMI) is a number calculated from a person's weight and height. BMI provides a reliable indicator of body fatness for most people and is used to screen for weight categories that may lead to health problems.

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Body Mass Index
Human bodies rank along the index from around 15 (near starvation) to over 40 (morbidly obese). The exact index values used to determine weight categories vary from authority to authority, but in general a BMI less than 18.5 is underweight and may indicate malnutrition, an eating disorder, or other health problems, while a BMI greater than 25 is overweight and above 30 is considered obese. These range boundaries apply to adults over 20 years of age.

BMI Rating Waist Size
  ≤ 40 in. (men) or 35 in. (women) ≥ 40 in. (men) or 35 in. (women)
18.5 or less Underweight -- N/A
18.5-24.9 Normal Weight -- N/A
25.0-29.9 Overweight Increased High
30.0-34.9 Obese High Very High
35.0-39.9 Obese Very High Very High
40 or greater Extremely Obese Extremely High Extremely High
BMI is equal to or less than 18.5 (Underweight):
A lean BMI can indicate that your weight maybe too low. You should consult your physician to determine if you should gain weight, as low body mass can decrease your body's immune system, which could lead to illness.

BMI is between 18.5 and 24.9 (Normal):
People whose BMI is within 18.5 to 24.9 possess the ideal amount of body weight, associated with living longest, the lowest incidence of serious illness, as well as being perceived as more physically attractive people than persons with BMI in higher or lower ranges.

BMI is between 25 and 29.9 (Overweight):
Persons falling in this BMI range are considered overweight and would benefit from finding healthy ways to lower their weight, such as diet and exercise. Individuals who fall in this range are at increased risk for a variety of illnesses.

BMI is over 30 (Obese):
Individuals with a BMI over 30 are in a physically unhealthy condition, which puts them at risk for serious illnesses such as heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, gall bladder disease, and some cancers. These persons would benefit greatly by modifying their lifestyle. Body mass index (BMI) or Quetelet Index is a statistical measure of the weight of a person scaled according to height. It was invented between 1830 and 1850 by the Belgian polymath, Adolphe Quetelet during the course of developing "social physics". Body Mass Index (BMI) is one of the most accurate ways to determine when extra pounds translate into health risks. BMI is a measure which takes into account a person's weight and height to gauge total body fat in adults. Someone with a BMI of 26 to 27 is about 20 percent overweight, which is generally believed to carry moderate health risks. A BMI of 30 and higher is considered obese. The higher the BMI, the greater the risk of developing additional health problems. The BMI has become controversial because many people, including physicians, have come to rely on it for medical diagnosis - but that has never been the BMI's purpose. It is meant to be used as a simple means of classifying sedentary (physically inactive) individuals with an average (mesomorphic) body composition. For these individuals, the current value settings are as follows: a BMI of 25 may indicate optimal weight; a BMI lower than 25 suggests the person is underweight while a number above 25 may indicate the person is overweight; a BMI below 20 may indicate the person has an eating disorder; a number above 30 suggests the person is obese (over 40, morbidly obese). The BMI is meant to broadly categorize populations for purely statistical purposes. As noted, its accuracy in relation to actual levels of body fat is easily distorted by such factors as fitness level, muscle mass, bone structure, sex, and ethnicity. People who are endomorphic or ectomorphic tend to have higher BMI numbers than people who are mesomorphic, because they have greater bone mass and greater muscle mass, respectively, than do mesomorphic individuals.


Given the reservations detailed below concerning the limitations of the BMI as a diagnostic tool for individuals, the following are common definitions of BMI categories:
  • Starvation: less than 15 (<15)
  • Anorexic: less than 17.5 (<17.5)
  • Underweight: less than 18.5 (<18.5)
  • Ideal: greater than or equal to 18.5 but less than 25 (=18.5 but <25)
  • Overweight: greater than or equal to 25 but less than 30 (=25 but <30)
  • Obese: greater than or equal to 30 but less than 40 (=30 but <40)
  • Morbidly Obese: greater than or equal to 40 (=40)
The U.S. National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey of 1994 indicates that 59% of American men and 49% of women have BMIs over 25. Extreme obesity - a BMI of 40 or more - was found in 2% of the men and 4% of the women. There are differing opinions on the threshold for being underweight in females, doctors quote anything from 18.5 to 20 as being the lowest weight, the most frequently stated being 19. A BMI nearing 15 is usually used as an indicator for starvation and the health risks involved, with a BMI <17.5 being one of the DSM criteria for the diagnosis of anorexia nervous.

Different ages

Body mass index calculations are not just for adults-they can also be used to identify the growing number of overweight children. BMI for children aged 2 to 20 years is calculated just as it is for adults, but it is classified differently. Instead of set thresholds for underweight and overweight, it is their BMI percentile compared with children of the same gender and age that is important [1]. A BMI that is less than the 5th percentile is considered underweight and above the 95th percentile is overweight. Children with a BMI between the 85th and 95th percentile are considered to be at risk of becoming overweight. Recent studies in England have indicated that females between the ages 12 and 16 have a higher BMI than males by 1.0 kg/m2 on average. Heart disease, diabetes and high blood pressure are all linked to being overweight. A BMI of 30 and over increases the risk of death from any cause by 50 to 150 percent, according to some estimates. According to health experts, people who are overweight but have no other health risk factors (such as high cholesterol or high blood pressure) should eat healthier and exercise to keep from gaining additional weight. For people who are overweight and also have health risks, they recommend trying to actively lose weight. Be sure to consult your doctor or other health professional before beginning any exercise or weight-loss program. In June 1998, the federal government announced guidelines which create a new definition of a healthy weight -- a BMI of 24 or less. So now a BMI of 25 to 29.9 is considered overweight. Individuals who fall into the BMI range of 25 to 34.9, and have a waist size of over 40 inches for men and 35 inches for women, are considered to be at especially high risk for health problems.

International variations

These recommended distinctions along the linear scale may vary from time to time and country to country, making global, longitudinal surveys problematic. In 1998, the U.S. National Institutes of Health brought U.S. definitions into line with WHO guidelines, lowering the normal/overweight cut-off from BMI 27.8 to BMI 25. This had the effect of redefining approximately 30 million Americans, previously "technically healthy" to "technically overweight". It also recommends lowering the normal/overweight threshold for South East Asian body types to around BMI 23, and expects further revisions to emerge from clinical studies of different body types. For Asians, the new cut-off BMI index for obesity is 27.5 compared with the traditional WHO figure of 30. An Asian adult with a BMI of 23 or greater is now considered overweight and the ideal normal range is 18.5-22.9.


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