Body Mass Index: Why BMI is racist – and should finally be buried
The BMI – short for Body Mass Index – is a key figure that doctors like to use to classify our body weight in relation to our height and thus to divide us into the categories “underweight”, “normal weight”, “overweight” and “obese”. The BMI was invented back in 1832 by the astronomer and mathematician Adolphe Quetelet – and it is still used today, including by the WHO.
And this despite the fact that the key figure has long been considered controversial and questionable because, for example, it does not take biological sex into account, i.e. it is basically only designed for men. More precisely: up white Men, because the BMI is not only sexistbut also racist.
That was the conclusion recently American Medical Association (short AMA), the largest association of (prospective) doctors in the USA. The AMA now recommends the use of other measures, for example to diagnose excess weight or eating disorders, because the BMI is an “inadequate” measure and has also caused “historical damage” since it was also used “as a measure of racial discrimination”.
Why is BMI sexist and racist?
The calculations of the BMI inventor Quetelet dealt exclusively with European men and were originally intended to “average man” what the researcher calls a “common norm,” rather than determining the health of different individuals with different bodies and backgrounds.
As so often in medicine, the “norm” describes here not FLINTA or People and Women of Color, but white Men. And this is exactly what leads to the fact that assessments based on BMI misjudge the health problems of all those groups that deviate from this supposed “norm”.
For example, there are studies that show that the BMI overestimates excess weight and the associated risks in people of color, i.e. classifies them as “overweight”. The key figure does not take into account that, according to more detailed, more complex (and also more expensive) examination methods such as computer tomography, people of color often have more muscle mass than white Europeans, and can therefore have a higher weight. Incidentally, the opposite applies to Asian people: the BMI underestimates health risks for this community.
Overweight people are not automatically unsportsmanlike and ill
So basically, the crux of the problem is that BMI is just based on body weight. However, it does not take into account the question of where a person’s body fat lies – because there are differences here too. For example, visceral fat around the organs is classified as more harmful to health than body fat on the hips or thighs. The BMI also ignores muscle percentage or bone density – and neither biological sex nor ethnic origin are taken into account. And these are all factors that affect our body weight.