Obesity is simply a mark on an over-used and under-specific scale, called the Body Mass Index (BMI). The BMI works by taking your weight in kilograms and dividing it by the square of your height in meters.
- Under 21 – Underweight
- 22-25 – Ideal weight for your height
- 26-30 – Overweight
- 31 and above – Clinically obese
However, BMI is not nearly the end of the story, and it should be your doctor who tells you that you are obese, not your bathroom scale, a tape measure and a calculator.
What's Wrong With BMI?
Doctors talk about BMI (body mass index) all the time when describing overall health, but is it really as useful to determine obesity as the medical community makes it out to be? Many great minds are now saying no. Because BMI is simply a ratio of height to weight, it fails to take into account various factors such as bone density, body proportions, and fat distribution (belly fat versus peripheral fat, for example).
Ever hear that someone is “big boned”? There truly is such a thing, actually. Not only do some people have bigger bones than others, but the bones of some are denser than average as well, meaning that although their bones might be the same size, they are heavier. When the BMI ratio is calculated, bone weight counts toward total weight, meaning that although heavier or larger bones are not fat, they get counted toward the total weight anyway, making the BMI number come out several points higher than it would be if that same person had smaller or less dense bones.
Body proportions are another factor not taken into account when determining BMI. Two individuals of equal height, standing next to each other, may both be active, healthy, and physically fit. Chances are good, however, that one of them will have a significantly higher BMI than the other if she has wider hips, wider shoulders, etc. Those proportions certainly do not make that individual obese or even close to it, but his or her BMI may wrongly say otherwise. This shows that BMI, a number which is supposed to be a prime factor to determine obesity, does not account for body proportions at all when making that determination.
Lastly, fat versus muscle is one of the most difficult factors to account for, and it is certainly not part of the BMI calculation. Take a body builder for example: He may weight in at over 200 lbs and have a very high BMI, but even your average person walking down the street could tell you he isn’t obese.
BMI is indiscriminate, which is actually great news for those with higher BMI numbers. A higher BMI number does not necessarily mean you are obese! It may mean “obese” in BMI lingo, but keep in mind that BMI is agnostic to several real world factors and thus should not be taken as a final word on your health.
Why Obesity is so Dangerous
Being obese is about more than just having a lot of extra weight. It’s about the changes that your body undergoes in order to cope with this kind of weight gain, and carrying all that extra fat around. It’s also about the things all of the toxins you’ve ingested do to your circulatory system, immune system and major organs.
Aside from the obvious psychological and social strain being very overweight has on people, there are several well-known health complications that can arise from being obese. These include, but are not limited to:
1. Heart disease
The number one killer of obese people. This group includes a number of dangerous conditions such as arteriosclerosis (hardening arteries), high blood pressure, cardiomyopathy (degeneration of the heart muscle), heart attacks and strokes.
Extremely dangerous, despite its prevalence. Can also lead to heart disease, heart attacks, strokes and sepsis.
3. Obstructive Sleep Apnea
A condition where your diaphragm does not have enough strength to lift your chest cavity while sleeping, inhibiting your ability to breathe without using an oxygen tank at night.
It can result from any of the many toxins your body builds up by being unable to properly dispose of waste products.
5. Kidney and Liver Failure
These are also common symptoms associated with obesity and diabetes, and can cause serious lifelong complications or death.
Regardless of what the BMI scale indicates, it’s easy to tell if you are obese. If you are able to pinch inches of flabby fat together around certain areas of your body you are likely obese. If your feet are constantly swollen and you have knee and ankle pain when you walk, or find yourself out of breath when taking the stairs, these are strong indicators that you are carrying too much weight around. Talk to your health care provider and a licensed nutritionist for guidance to help you get your weight under control before you begin to experience more serious weight related health conditions.