BMI Is Bullshit: Now With Photos!

From Kate Harding at Shakesville:

So, the “Guess The Rotund’s Height and Weight” game gave me an idea. (Oh, and hey, if you want to see a scatter graph of the results, there’s one here now.) I talk a lot about how BMI is bullshit, but we all know talk is cheap. Photos of people who actually fall into each category, however? Say a lot.

Thus, I have created the Illustrated BMI Categories Project, to demonstrate just what “normal” and “overweight” and “morbidly obese” really look like. I’ll continue to add photos until people stop sending them — if you’d like to participate, please send a (worksafe) photo along with your true height and weight to katesblog at gmail dot com. I may not use all the ones I get, but I appreciate the courage of anyone willing to send one. (Oh, and I’m also creating a general Shapely Prose Readers photostream, so let me know if you want to be in that.)

It’s really awesome.

TRIGGER WARNING: However, please keep in mind that it features photos of people of different body types along with their weights. As Mandolin writes in comments, “I really appreciate this project, but you might want to put a trigger warning in the post. Weights are listed with the photographs and that can be problematic for people who are still dealing with vestiges of a disordered mindset.”

(Thanks to Sailorman for the tip.)

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35 Responses to BMI Is Bullshit: Now With Photos!

  1. 1
    Mandolin says:

    I really appreciate this project, but you might want to put a trigger warning in the post. Weights are listed with the photographs and that can be problematic for people who are still dealing with vestiges of a disordered mindset.

  2. 2
    Ampersand says:

    Trigger warning added — thanks for the suggestion.

  3. 3
    Doug S. says:

    BMI is a very rough measure, but at least it’s better than weight alone. There ought to be a better one, though.

  4. 4
    Genevieve says:

    Yeah…BMI sucks. My weight right now is what would be called ‘underweight’–but I eat normally, I probably exercise less than I should, and I feel fine, most of the time. I’m probably at the weight that’s right for me, but people see my 16.8-or-whatever BMI and say: “Eat more”–if I tried to get myself up to a normal weight, I’d probably make myself sick.

  5. 5
    Barbara says:

    http://www.dietandcancerreport.org/

    Can’t wait for Amp’s analysis. (Just to be clear, I looked far enough to know that I lack time and probably sufficient expertise to evaluate its conclusions).

  6. 6
    LarryFromExile says:

    Yup, its crap. I wonder what the BMIs would be for contestants of the last Mr. Universe competition.

  7. 7
    Mittmann says:

    I like the organization that Rob Cockerham did with this same idea….

    (note, he doesn’t do BMI, but that is easy enough to calculate)
    http://www.cockeyed.com/photos/bodies/heightweight.shtml

  8. 8
    Individ-ewe-al says:

    How fucking sad is it that photos of normal people with a range of different body types needs a trigger warning? That says something really, really depressing about society.

  9. 9
    The Rotund says:

    Doug, the point is that it really ISN’T any better than weight. It is determined by taking your weight and dividing it by your height squared.

    We’d be better off, you know, LOOKING at people and their relative levels of actual health.

    Individ-ewe-al , that really IS a depressing statement about our culture. *sigh*

  10. 10
    Mandolin says:

    “How fucking sad is it that photos of normal people with a range of different body types needs a trigger warning?”

    It’s not the photos, it’s the numbers.

  11. 11
    nobody.really says:

    BMI is Bullshit: now with an article in the 11/7/07 Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA). Briefly:

    Overweight people (those with weight up to 30 lbs above BMI “normal” ranges) have no increased risk of death from cancer or heart disease. They have an increased risk of death from diabetes and kidney disease. But they have a REDUCED risk of death from pneumonia, emphysema, injuries and infections.

    Obesity (BMI of 30+) still correlates with an increase risk of death from heart disease, diabetes and kidney disease, as well as cancer of the breast, colon, pancreas, esophagus, ovaries and uterus.

  12. 12
    Matt says:

    From looking over that Flickr set, I can make a couple of observations.

    1) “Normal” and “Overweight” both seem pretty healthy according to their scale

    2) For women, it seems like having a well endowed chest on an otherwise healthy body puts you over the line to “overweight” or to “obese”, if you would otherwise be in the lower class. In my opinion, that shouldn’t count against you

    3) The men’s scale is completely and utterly screwed up

  13. 13
    sylphhead says:

    2) For women, it seems like having a well endowed chest on an otherwise healthy body puts you over the line to “overweight” or to “obese”, if you would otherwise be in the lower class. In my opinion, that shouldn’t count against you

    Matt, I just think this is in really bad taste, and this is coming from a renowned purveyor of tasteless jokes.

  14. 14
    Matt says:

    Sylphhead

    I tried to point it out as politely as possible, but even if I were being crass, I don’t think that my observations were wrong.

  15. 15
    Elkins says:

    I don’t think that Matt was trying to make a tasteless joke. He was pointing out a fact of female anatomy — namely, that some women have very large breasts on otherwise slender bodies, and that breasts add weight and thus affect BMI. What I think maybe Matt doesn’t realize about women and their bodies is that for many women, breasts are just where they carry their weight. In other words, breasts aren’t fixed in size, nor are they made of some mysterious non-body substance. Just as there are men (and women, but more often men) who carry their weight in their stomach, and who can therefore look pretty thin except for their pot bellies, so there are women who carry weight on their chest, and who can therefore look pretty thin except for their breasts.

    The phrasing of “count against you,” though, I agree, was unfortunate. For one thing, weight is not a moral issue. For another, isn’t this exercise in part to demonstrate just to what extent BMI is a crock? It’s precisely because people’s bodies carry weight so differently that a photo reference like this can be so assumption-shattering.

  16. 16
    Silenced is Foo says:

    @Matt – people don’t give politeness very much weight in the feminist blogosphere, on account of of people who say extremely hateful things with an air of intellectualism about them.

    Should’ve just come out and say that a lot of those ladies looked pretty slim but weighed into a heavier category on account of their massive boobs.

  17. 17
    Matt says:

    @everyone who replied

    No, I completely agree, BMI is ridiculous as a judge of health or fitness in general.

    Healthy or unhealthy, what makes a person good or bad isn’t related to their physical bodies at all.

  18. 18
    sylphhead says:

    Well yeah, okay, I don’t mean to start a big thing with this. The whole reason why the issue of BMI can strike a very raw nerve with many women (and some men) is self image issues with regard to conventional attractiveness. So boob-related quips kind of come off as a cancer joke at a hospital. Buuuuttt… what do I know.

    On a related note, I don’t know how much breast weight would add, given that it’s dense areas of muscle and bone that can deceptively add to ‘weight’. I heard somewhere that limb length is one of the most confounding variables.

  19. 19
    ms_xeno says:

    This is brilliant. 8)

    I’ll be back later today with cookies for all the perpetrators. Oh, and fresh fruit. Your (pl.) choice.

  20. 20
    S says:

    No, Matt’s completely right. I’m on the overweight edge of normal, but it’s mostly because I’m a tiny girl with massive breasts. (My friends and I have decided that I should find out exactly how much they weigh and count my weight as (whatever it is really should be) + boobs.

  21. 21
    Schala says:

    I sort of wish my breasts weighted more. It might get me above the underweight category. At 16.1 BMI…I wouldn’t mind reaching 17, or 18. I think I do have a problem of not having enough fat (and having like 0 muscle mass above the minimal necessary to walk/move normally).

    Poverty can keep you in the lower category against your will (if you got no food – because you can’t purchase more, how do you gain weight anyhow?)

  22. 22
    sylphhead says:

    Happy belated Indy Day, everyone.

    No, Matt’s completely right. I’m on the overweight edge of normal, but it’s mostly because I’m a tiny girl with massive breasts. (My friends and I have decided that I should find out exactly how much they weigh and count my weight as (whatever it is really should be) boobs.

    Ah. OK, I see then.

    Poverty can keep you in the lower category against your will (if you got no food – because you can’t purchase more, how do you gain weight anyhow?)

    I believe this to be a fallacy. One of the first useful things I learned when I started working out in high school was that the whole obsession with protein, as well as diet in general, was largely overblown. Eating a rich Western diet already provides you with more than enough proteins for everyone except the most serious of hard muscle-gainers*. For instance, even the much-vaunted “one g of protein per kg of body weight” tends to be an overshoot for most casual exercisers, especially those who start out on the lean or heavy-set ends of the spectrum. Eating too much food that signifies mucho protein to a young male mind (junk containing lots of low grade meat, for instance, as opposed to egg whites, legumes, or lean fish), conversely, can drain vitality and thus diminish the efficiency of your workouts.

    I don’t know what your current economic situation is, Schala, but if you are at least at the level where spending a lot of time online is a viable hobby, I don’t think the quantity (or even quality) of food would be too much of a barrier in gaining muscle mass. Getting the wrong information on how to exercise properly, as well as finding enough free time to keep up a regular regimen, are much more limiting, in my opinion. I especially can see how the latter would affect someone in poverty. Additionally, living space is a factor, because otherwise time-saving investments like an exercise ball or a set of dumbbells can be prohibitive in small quarters, something I found out during college. The latter can be downright dangerous.

    If you want advice on building a regimen on a tight budget, though, I could be of assistance.

    *Clues that you’re not the “most serious of muscle-gainers”: you don’t have a personal trainer, you don’t have a personal nutritionist, and you do 3 or 4 sets of each rather than 8.

  23. 23
    Schala says:

    I’m not really after gaining muscles. I’m just saying muscles are barely a factor at all in my weight. I never wanted to gain muscles, though I was told I had nice lower leg muscles from running and walking a lot (no car).

    I have 6,000$ a year. My mother has about 24,000$ a year, but it includes 2 children under her full custody (15 and 17), plus well, I pay rent and she lets me have a room and food (about an even deal considering I don’t eat that much food). At her income, she can’t afford to buy tons of food to feed off 4 people. Most of us only take 1, maybe 2 meals. Very rarely 3.

    I’m mainly after gaining fat, so that I may gain hips and breast tissue beyond what I have now. My petite build coupled with my lack of fat gives me a very childish build (though I do have some apparent breasts).

  24. 24
    jill says:

    How much do breasts weigh? I am a bra fitter for “Marks and Spencer” and have tried weighing mine after a customer suggested that her “40 J cups” (English sizing) came in at about 10 pounds each mine are the same size and from putting them on the bathroom scales, balanced on a chest of draws, mine weigh the same 10 pounds each. If I was flat chested I would be a perfect weight but my BMI now shows me as being over weight.

  25. 25
    Daran says:

    How much do breasts weigh?

    Sailorman had a discussion about that on his blog a while back.

  26. 26
    Alleyn says:

    BMI is inaccurate not only because it doesn’t take into consideration muscle vs fat % but BMI also doesn’t work for people of extreme heights. Somebody over 7 feet of even a relatively light body mass may be calculated to have a very high BMI.
    The following formula works much better than BMI…

    hypothetical mass (hm)= real mass (rm) times (hypothetical height (hh)/real height (rh))^3

    Note the power of three is used because because the volume of an object is a cubic relation (height *width*depth) for example, if you doubled the size of a cube it’s volume would increase 8 folds (2*2*2=8) right? The same concept also applies to humans…

  27. 27
    John says:

    The main problem with BMI scale is that it was created a long time ago and the average weight has changed over the years (but the previus averages are still used to calculate BMI). Muscle mass is also a major component that is not taken into account when calculating BMI. That is why a muscular individual who looks perfectly normal will be considered obese.

  28. 28
    Mac says:

    The BMI is pure crap. I’m technically overweight at 6’2 210. What the chart fails to account for is that 210 pounds of muscle is very different from 210 pounds of fat. My doctor assured me that I was fine and that the scale is pure shit. In the best shape of my life but for the first time my BMI would suggest otherwise.

  29. 29
    Devil's Advocate says:

    BMI is a ratio of height to weight and it’s a guideline. The terms “underweight”, “normal”, “overweight”, “obese”, and “morbidly obese” have nothing to do with a person’s appearance or physical abilities. These terms are medical in nature and correspond to risk levels for a host of weight-related diseases. In short, BMI is not “bullshit”. BMI is a tool. All tools have their uses and their limits. BMI does NOT dictate whether you’re attractive, strong, flexible, able to run a marathon, able to have a successful relationship, able to raise good kids, able to be a good cook, or able to wear whatever clothes you like. We have to stop denying that Americans (and some others around the world) have health problems that are DIRECTLY linked to being overweight and sedentary. I have family members with weight-related diseases, and you would never call them “fat”. Nevertheless, excess weight and lack of exercise has been a major factor in their overall lack of good health. I believe that preaching that BMI is “bullshit” is irresponsible.

  30. 30
    B. Adu says:

    We have to stop denying that Americans (and some others around the world) have health problems that are DIRECTLY linked to being overweight and sedentary

    We have to stop pretending that slimness=health, which is why the medical profession are reporting that increasingly the first response of slim people when told they are ill, is: “Why? I’m slim!”.

    I doubt fat people are responding similarily. In fact a lot of us expect every twinge to be some serious condition.

    I myself don’t bother with the ‘BMI is b/s’ line because the problem is the premise that fatness is a disease. If that’s your starting point, whatever you use to try and ‘prove’ it, will be unable to prove wishful thinking.

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  32. 31
    Justin says:

    BMI is bull. It’s worthless. It’s like asking someone to tell you how fast they’re driving by looking at a distant mountain when they could just look down and see the speedometer. The mirror is better than this crap index.

    For example, I was obese. In 8 months, I have lost 78 pounds and now I’m around 15% bodyfat. I will see my abs before too long (that’s the goal anyways). At 15% bodyfat, 189 pounds, 5’9″, I am in the overweight category. Bull. I have 16″ arms and my amrs and legs are hard as Chinese arithmetic. I have a relatively thin layer of fat around my navel preventing me from seeing my abs, and that’s about it. I can see the various larger muscles in my shoulders, triceps, back, and legs. yet I’m overweight.

    BMI is a joke.

  33. 32
    bob says:

    bmi isn’t bs, it is just misused by individuals. at a global level adding up everyones bmi’s gives us a chance to study how different countries compare and that is useful, clearly the US is doing something wrong. it has 17times more fat woman than india and twice as many fat woman as france. http://apps.who.int/bmi/index.jsp

  34. 33
    nina franco says:

    THANK YOU! I couldn’t figure out why I was a size 4 pants, really shapely, professional dancer, (ballroom, not exotic, ;) ). without an ounce of fat anywhere except my 34DD-E boobs and my BMI said I was borderline overweight.

  35. 34
    Jesse says:

    I want to put my picture in there. Male, 6’2″ 294lb 37.7. Email, s’il vous plait?