Decode your BMI

By: Liz Bruckner

Author: Canadian Living


Decode your BMI

By: Liz Bruckner
Forget the scale – finding your BMI (body mass index) is a more accurate way to see if your health and weight are on track.

What is BMI?
In a nutshell, your BMI is a way of assessing how suitable your body weight is for your height. It's also a great way to initially screen for weight-related issues such as diabetes, deficient or underactive thyroid function, eating disorders, malnutrition, and sedentary lifestyles.

How do I measure my BMI?
Here's how to calculate yours: Divide your weight in kilograms by your height in meters squared, says Toronto personal trainer, Micheline Poncelet.

A 150-pound, 5’7" woman would have a BMI of 23.4, placing her in Health Canada's healthy range of 18 and 25. Measurements lower than 18.5 are considered underweight, above 25 are considered overweight, and above 30 are deemed obese.

Why is it helpful?
Used as a screening tool to help identify weight issues, BMI is one of the best methods medical professionals have to assess the amount of fat in the body. (Research has shown that BMI correlates to other fat measuring tools and procedures like dual energy X-ray absorptimoetry and underwater weighing.) That said, BMI doesn't take into consideration what percentage of your weight is fat versus how much is muscle mass, says Poncelet, which would give a more accurate picture of what is truly going on in the body.

Is it reliable?
While calculating your BMI is a good jumping off point, because it doesn't take body fat into consideration, results can be misleading. For example, a football player is very likely to have a high BMI due to the amount of muscle mass he carries, says Poncelet, but because his BMI is higher than 25 doesn't mean he is at risk of being overweight.

Similarly, even though someone may fall into what is considered a "healthy" range doesn't guarantee good health. "Let's say a woman checks her BMI and gets a rating of 21. You automatically assume she's healthy, but if her body fat rating is 35 per cent, she's still at risk for obesity related diseases," she adds. Your best bet for gauging your risk? A waist-to-hip measurement, which focuses on belly fat – the type thought to be the most dangerous in the body. You can find your waist-to-hip measurement by dividing the circumference of your waist by your hips, or using this online calculator.  Women in the healthy range have numbers no higher than 0.8, and men no higher than 0.95.

How can I improve my rating?
Lowering your BMI can be as simple as making a few dietary changes. Limit or cut out saturated (animal) fats and refined (white) sugar, eat more whole, natural foods like fruits and veggies, increase your fiber intake with more whole grains and legumes, and drink lots of water while limiting your alcohol intake. Also aim to increase your physical activity with three to five 30-minute cardio sessions each week.

Read more:
5 kitchen tools you need for healthy eating
Top 12 healthy eating tips
Healthy weight loss guide

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Decode your BMI