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Kraig W. Jacobson, M.D.

Allergy, Asthma & Immunology

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What is BMI and why is it important?

Posted by on in Diabetes
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Jumping onto the scale will tell you how much you weight, but nothing more. Knowing where you fall on the body mass index (BMI), however, can serve as an excellent reference point for determining a healthy weight for one's height.

How do I calculate my BMI?

You can determine your BMI by divide your total weight in pounds (lbs) by your height in inches (in) squared, and then multiply that total by 703. Here is the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) formula and example:

Measurement Units

Formula and Calculation

Kilograms and meters (or centimeters)

Formula: weight (kg) / [height (m)]2
With the metric system, the formula for BMI is weight in kilograms divided by height in meters squared. Since height is commonly measured in centimeters, divide height in centimeters by 100 to obtain height in meters.
Example: Weight = 68 kg, Height = 165 cm (1.65 m)
Calculation: 68 ÷ (1.65)2 = 24.98

Pounds and inches

Formula: weight (lb) / [height (in)]2 x 703
Calculate BMI by dividing weight in pounds (lbs) by height in inches (in) squared and multiplying by a conversion factor of 703.
Example: Weight = 150 lbs, Height = 5'5" (65")
Calculation: [150 ÷ (65)2] x 703 = 24.96

Many websites have easy-to-use BMI calculators, such as the Mayo Clinic. Feel free to take a moment to check your BMI; the same test is used for both men and women.

A BMI below 18.5 is considered underweight, 18.5-24.9 is normal, 25.0-29.9 is overweight, and 30.0 and above is considered obese.

Research shows that when a person's BMI reaches "overweight" and "obese" levels, there is a greater risk for many diseases and health conditions, such as coronary heart disease, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, stroke, certain types of cancers and more. BMI is also used as a measure of underweight, which may be an indication of an eating disorder, such as anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa.

It should be noted that the BMI does not determine one's body fat content, but is a general referencing scale for healthy proportions of weight to height. There is a range for each category of weight to allow for differences in body density and structure. Since muscle is seven times denser than fat, those with a high muscle mass, such as athletes, may have a high BMI but not be obese.

What about BMI in children?

For children, there is a separate but equally important BMI calculation that is used. A child's weight status is determined using an age- and sex-specific percentile for BMI rather than the BMI categories used for adults, because children's body composition varies as they age. CDC Growth Charts are used to determine the corresponding BMI-for-age and sex percentile for children and adolescents (ages 2-19). Childhood obesity can have a harmful effect on the body in a variety of ways. To learn more, visit the CDC's website, which offers helpful information on health risks now and later in life.

Why is BMI important?

If you are seen by a doctor who has adopted Electronic Medical Records (EMR), your BMI will be automatically calculated when your height and weight are entered as part of your vital signs. In addition, it is required for some medical guidelines and to determine if excess weight is a health risk. To determine a person's risks, healthcare providers typically use other assessments such as family history, physical activity and other health screenings along with the BMI.

Are there other ways to measure a healthy weight?

Some people test their body fat through underwater weighing or caliper testing. If you visit us for a checkup, we can provide your BMI, based upon your height and weight. If you'd like to learn more about nutrition and exercise that will help you reach and maintain a healthy BMI, contact us. For online information, visit the USDA's website.

An energetic problem solver, Dr. Kraig Jacobson has spent his career treating patients and teaching about the complexities of allergy, asthma and immunology. He has practiced medicine in Eugene since 1979. The bigger the challenge, the more he enjoys his work.