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Citing racist origins, American Medical Association deemphasizes BMI

Body mass index has been used for decades to assess a person's ideal weight. Leading doctors now say its usage should be deemphasized.
Citing racist origins, American Medical Association deemphasizes BMI
Posted at 12:10 PM, Jun 15, 2023

The American Medical Association announced it has adopted recommendations deemphasizing the use of  body mass index as a measurement in medicine. The group now recommends considering BMI along with other factors, including visceral fat, body adiposity index, body composition, relative fat mass, waist circumference and genetic/metabolic factors.

The AMA said it "recognizes issues with using BMI as a measurement due to its historical harm, its use for racist exclusion, and because BMI is based primarily on data collected from previous generations of non-Hispanic white populations."

“There are numerous concerns with the way BMI has been used to measure body fat and diagnose obesity, yet some physicians find it to be a helpful measure in certain scenarios,” said AMA Immediate Past President Jack Resneck. “It is important for physicians to understand the benefits and limitations of using BMI in clinical settings to determine the best care for their patients.”

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The body mass index uses a simple formula combining a person's weight and height. A person with a body mass index between 18.5 and 24.9 is considered a normal weight. Those with a BMI between 25 and 29.9 are overweight, while those with a BMI of over 30 are considered obese.

For someone who is 6 feet tall, weighing 184 pounds would be considered overweight, while weighing 221 pounds would be considered obese.

Someone 5 feet 6, 155 pounds is considered overweight, while being 186 pounds is obese.

The National Institutes of Health noted that BMI can be useful, but is not the only measure of a person's health. 

"It may overestimate body fat in athletes and others who have a muscular build," the NIH said. "It may underestimate body fat in older persons and others who have lost muscle."

The Cleveland Clinic has a similar stance. 

"Body mass index is a quick tool that health care providers can use to assess your risk for certain health conditions," the Cleveland Clinic said. "However, BMI is not always an accurate measurement of body fatness and is not the sole determiner of your general health. If you have any questions or concerns about your weight or your risk for developing certain health conditions, such as heart disease, talk to your healthcare provider."

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