When it comes to determining a healthy weight, it’s a little like the three bears. Do you weigh too much? Do you weigh too little? Or are you just right? Being too far on either end of the spectrum can bring not only health problems but also issues with our self-esteem and self-image. I’ve found that most people know what’s a healthy and comfortable weight for them. While oftentimes, just knowing ourselves and our bodies can be enough to determine where you fall on the healthy weight range, it’s helpful to have an actual calculation that determines where you fall. That’s where the BMI, or body mass index, comes into play. Basically, it takes into account your height, age, and weight and tells you your body mass score and if you’re in a healthy or unhealthy range.
How does the body mass index calculation work?
Our BMI is the relation between our height and ‘mass,’ and to calculate it, you divide your body mass by the square of your body height. When I hear that, my first thought is, “That sounds extremely complicated.” The good news is, as complex as it sounds, there are many calculators online that perform the calculation for you as well as a wide variety of charts available.
You’ve likely seen a BMI chart in the majority of the doctor’s offices or fitness centers that you’ve visited over the years, so you know they’re really just an infographic that allows you to determine where your weight is in relation to your height. Basically, it’s just a matter of finding your height in the column on one side, your weight on the top or bottom column, and then finding where they cross paths on the chart. That intersection is where you’ll find a score, also known as your BMI. Most charts take it a step further and are even sectioned into the various categories of health to make it obvious where your weight falls in relation to being a healthy weight or needing to make some changes.
There are variations in BMI scores based on age because the ever-changing bodies of children and teenagers aren’t the same as someone that has reached full maturity. You’ll find that charts (or BMI calculators) are typically designed for ages 2-20 or 20+. Because children have growth patterns that are unique to them, it’s not fair to do an across-the-board calculation, so BMI is generally calculated based on comparisons to other children the same age. It’s also key to note that our bodies tend to store more fat and retain less muscle as we get older, so it’s not uncommon for our BMI to increase with age.
Does Gender Matter?
I made the assumption coming in that BMI ranges would vary for women and men because our bodies are different both physically and hormonally. I mean, I look at a cheeseburger and gain a few pounds, but if my husband eats three, he stays the same weight and just has to face a little heartburn. That doesn’t seem fair to me, so I thought I should get a little wiggle room when it came to healthy scores. This assumption proved to be both true and false, mostly because the majority of the studies and information out there don’t necessarily agree on the subject.
Let’s delve a little deeper, though. On one hand, my assumption was true because, generally speaking, women carry more fat than men do, and men have more lean muscle. However, while you might assume that gender would make a difference in our overall BMI scores, it really doesn’t until you reach the 85th percentile of weight ranges, because a man is deemed obese at a lower BMI percentage than a woman.
On the other hand, the assumption proved false because, despite the fact that our bodies are intrinsically different and what’s normal for a man isn’t necessarily the same for a woman, when it comes to height and weight, it’s really just a cut and dry calculation. Basically speaking, A+B=C, regardless of gender.
Which Score is Healthy?
After you’ve calculated your BMI using an online calculator, a paper and pencil, or a handy-dandy chart, you can find out which range you fall into. BMI ranges are typically split into 5 categories:
- Underweight < 18.5
- Normal =18.5-24.9
- Overweight = 25-29.9
- Obese= 30-39.9
- Morbidly Obese= 40 +
You’ll find that different calculators and charts might vary slightly when it comes to the range assigned to the different categories. I don’t mind the variations because you’ll still have a good idea of if you’re in a healthy (normal) range or if you need to make some diet or exercise changes to address any potential health issues.
While calculating your BMI can be a useful tool when determining if you’re a healthy weight, it’s not an exact science and should not be treated as such. It’s important to remember that regardless of the score that you see on the calculator or chart, you need to still focus on keeping an overall level of health by eating a diet rich in fruits and vegetables, restricting the number of processed foods you eat, and staying active throughout the week. And if you ever do see a score that you’re not comfortable with, it’s always the best idea to discuss your weight with your doctor or a dietician to get health information and professional guidance.
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