BMI: lies we were told

Who else or who less has cheated by saying that their ideal weight is their height minus 10 kilos, that is, I am 1.72 meters tall, because my weight should be around 60-62 kilos, come on, ready.

Where did this come from? I have no idea, but this is the kind of supposedly science-related stuff that spreads like wildfire and, thanks to repetition, becomes axiom. Surely you have also calculated your BMI (body mass index) to see how your health was and that. It is enough to get on the scale of a pharmacy, enter your height and, with the resulting weight, you are supposed to know if you are healthy or not. This parameter gives us an idea of ​​our health only with a simple mathematical formula, which is calculated by dividing a person’s weight in kilos by the square of their height in meters. Through a categorization of weight bands, it indicates if you are underweight, normal weight, overweight or obese with all its categories.

But it is a parameter that does not take into account age, or physical activity, nor does it take gender into account, that is, it is a neutral calculation, valid for both men and women. The body composition between men and women is very different. Without going into more specific details, men have more muscle mass and less fat. Unlike us, our fat mass is greater, since we are made for the survival of the species, and this extra fat helps us with pregnancies.

But where does the BMI come from?

The idea comes from the hand of the Belgian Adolph Quetelet, born in 1832, mathematician, statistician and astrologer (he was dedicated to many things, none related to health), in fact, at first it was called “Quetelet index”. He wanted to find a link between human traits in crime and murder and, through fiscal traits measured exclusively in white European men, he wanted to establish what the “average man” should be, that is, he wanted to define a standard model, the ideal white man and for this he used only two data, weight and height.

According to his criteria, if limits were established within which that “average man” moved, everything that came out of there, above or below them, would be considered pathological. As a good mathematician, he wanted data, to be able to put them in a Gaussian bell that contained the “normal” in the center, the normative, and the extremes of the bell would mark the deviation from the norm. This is an excerpt from his book Sur l’homme et le développement de ses facultés. Essai d’une physique sociale (“On man and the development of his faculties. Essay on social physics): “If the average man were perfectly determined and defined, we could consider him as the type (or model) of beauty and, on the contrary, everything that more than resembles his proportions or his way of being is far from them, would constitute deformities or diseases”. To such an extent that what is presented as radically different from the average man, not only from the point of view of proportion and form, but also considering the various dimensions of the human, should be considered, no longer as a disease, but like a monstrosity. Thus, the greater the distance that separates an individual from the average man, the more he will distance himself from humanity and the more he will approach that intermediate stage between man and animal that is monstrosity.

“We have learned so well that weight is indicative of health, that before large non-regulatory bodies we are not able to see anything other than disease”

It is creepy; The monstrosity thing sounds so old, like when malformations were seen as nature’s flaws to be hidden at home or that human being was only allowed to live as a circus attraction. Before we hate poor Quetelec, we must know that this index was used to categorize people and observe the distribution of a population. The big problem came later, when doctors, seeking consensus with the population, began to use their index as an indicator of health.

Later, the American health insurers joined, after collecting data from their subscribers, they determined that overweight people had a higher risk of suffering from diseases. From these results, they created a blank slate of prices based on the “health” of their policyholders. Using the index, they valued the price of the insurance, those who had more weight either were not insured or raised the price of the insurance with the excuse of the future forecast of greater health spending. In fact, the BMI is still used as an indicator of risk for insurers.

You are probably wondering what this has to do with health. Well, despite being an old index, from the 19th century, racist (since it only includes white Caucasian men) and sexist, since it is calculated with data on men and excludes women, it is still used in medicine and in health fields.

Science advances, but the BMI is a parameter that is still used and, what is more serious, that continues to stigmatize. We have learned so well that weight is indicative of health, that before large non-regulatory bodies we are not able to see anything other than disease.

People who exceed the BMI suffer shame, guilt and discrimination, regardless of their health, because it is possible to have a large body and be healthy, just as it is to be thin and sick. Health is not exclusive to slim bodies. Health exists in all sizes, but for that we need to stop using weight as the center of it. Using the BMI as a predictor of health is as useful as consulting the horoscope.

NUTRITION WITH SCIENCE It is a section on food based on scientific evidence and the knowledge contrasted by specialists. Eating is much more than a pleasure and a necessity: diet and eating habits are now the public health factor that can most help us prevent many diseases, from many types of cancer to diabetes. A team of dietitians-nutritionists will help us to better understand the importance of food and, thanks to science, to break down the myths that lead us to eat poorly.

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