Most insurance companies use your BMI (body mass index) to asses health risk, but the BMI can be misleading. BMI is a simple calculation using height and weight to risk stratify individuals. The problem with using body weight is that body fat, muscle, organs, bone, and total body water make up your weight. The big variables in calculating your BMI are how much total body fat and total muscle mass you have. If your muscle mass is high, are in great shape, and work out, your BMI could be misleadingly high.Athletes and military personnel, who are in great shape, often get misdiagnosed as overweight or obese due to a high BMI, yet they are healthier and at less risk of dying than the BMI would have you believe.
If you have a normal BMI, it doesn’t mean you are necessarily healthy. You could still suffer from a condition I call “skinny-fat”. What is skinny-fat? Skinny-fat is a condition where an individual has a normal weight but has very little muscle mass and excess body fat. This is more common in women, as they tend to lose a lot of muscle mass from yo-yo dieting. Currently there are more than 300,000 adults in the US who fit the description of skinny-fat.
Most docs never check a body fat level and thus will never know if you are at increased risk of an earlier death. A recent study showed that 50% of people who had body fat levels in the obese range had normal BMI’s. About 18% of those adults had Metabolic Syndrome. Being skinny-fat also increases your risk of cardiovascular mortality. BMI can mislead your doc, don’t let it mislead you!