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Can BMI be adjusted for muscular builds?

Asked by Andrew Urso, Pawcatuck, Connecticut

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I have a natural extensive amount of muscle mass on all parts of my body plus a broad build, but my height is just 5 feet 4. When I do a BMI calculation having to enter my weight and height, my suggested weight should be around 135 to get a decent reading. I weigh in around 165, and I do need to lose a bit, but not a lot in the belly area. I am 44 years old and was just wondering if the BMI can be adjusted for people with a muscular build with broad shoulders?

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Diet and Fitness Expert Dr. Melina Jampolis Physician Nutrition Specialist

Expert answer

Hi Andrew,

This is a very important question and I'm glad that you asked it! BMI (body mass index) is a calculation of your height relative to your weight. Your BMI is 28.3, which puts you in the overweight category. A BMI of greater than 30 is considered obese; 25-29.9 is considered overweight; 18.5-24.9 is normal; and less than 18.5 is underweight. BMI is a reliable indicator of body fat, too much of which may increase your risk of heart disease, diabetes, cancer and numerous other diseases. But BMI does have some limitations when it comes to weight and disease risk assessment. In a very large-framed or muscular person like you, BMI may overestimate body fat. Conversely, BMI may underestimate body fat in a very small-framed person, someone who has very little muscle mass, or a person who carries his or her excess weight mainly around the midsection and has very thin arms and legs (the so called apple shaped body type).

Since there is no adjustment factor for BMI relative to muscle mass and body frame, many experts recommend also measuring waist circumference and often consider other weight-related risk factors including high cholesterol, high blood sugar, family history, smoking and inactivity when assessing risk of obesity-related disease. If you have two or more of the above risk factors, or if your waist is greater than 40 inches (for women, greater than 35 inches), that puts you at higher risk for obesity-related diseases, especially heart disease and diabetes. At 165 pounds, you would most likely benefit from losing just 10 percent of your body weight (about 16.5 pounds), rather than aiming for 135 pounds, which may be unrealistic for your body type. Losing 10 percent of your weight, staying physically active, not smoking and eating a healthy diet that includes lots of fruits and vegetables will go a long way toward keeping you healthy, regardless of where you fall in the BMI chart.

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