In context

BMI doesn’t tell you much, but it does tend to show a bell-style curve over a large population.

BMI distribution in Mississippi, 2003

The chart at right, showing population distribution of BMIs from Mississippi in 2003, (source) gives you a rough idea.

My BMI is about 60.  That chart? Doesn’t even show anyone of BMI 60.

The official definition of “obese” used to be based on height/weight tables, which roughly corresponded to

  • Overweight is BMI of 27 or more for women, 28 or more for men;
  • Obese is BMI of 32 or above

In June 1998 the definition was changed:

  • Overweight is BMI of 25 of more;
  • Obese is BMI of 30 or more.

Remember that chart?  The mean, or average BMI in that population was 27.73. This is not all that abnormal for the US; most “officially obese” folks have a BMI under 40.

Want to know what a person with a BMI of 25, 30, or 40 looks like?  Check out The BMI Project’s slideshow and Flickr set.  Those are typical obese people.

If you are wondering how this looks in pounds, the following table is from the CDC (PDF):

Table1. Body mass index (BMI) values for healthy weight, overweight, and obesity

Corresponding weight in pounds (approximate)
Weight BMI values Man 5’9’’ tall
(average height)
Woman 5’4’’ tall
(average height)
Healthy weight 18.5–24.9 121–163 108–144
Overweight 25.0–29.9 164–195 145–173
Obese 30 and above 196 and above 174 and above
And, getting out my calculator to add:
Morbidly Obese 40 and above 270 and above 232.5 and above

Many news stories about weight illustrate with pictures of extremely fat folk such as myself. The reality is that most “obese” people are not extremely fat.  Most obese folks can buy clothing at department stores.  They may not even need to go to the “plus” size department!

All this is to make it clear that when I say my body is not typical, I’m NOT KIDDING.  K?


Note: The “Healthy Weight” category description is verbatim from the CDC.  Data from the Health and Retirement Survey (PDF) shows that “[a] low ‘normal weight’ results in a higher mortality rate than overweight does.”  See also “Association of All-Cause Mortality With Overweight and Obesity Using Standard Body Mass Index Categories,” Journal of the American Medical Association.

Note 2:Apparently some references use “severe obesity” for people whose BMI is greater than 40. They also divide that between “morbid obesity” (BMI of 40-50) and “super obesity” or “super obese” (BMI greater than 50).  But again, most people’s BMI is below 40.

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17 thoughts on “In context

  1. A thin person with little muscle tone could be considered obese, as obesity is defined by a high percentage of body fat. I’ve always found that kind of funny.

  2. Mostly I’ve seen body-fat percentage as a mitigating factor, such as “bodybuilders have high BMIs but they are low in body fat”.

    But when you’re at the doctor’s office, do they use a scale or do they measure body fat?

    Oh, and the CDC site doesn’t give body fat % targets at all. Just BMI. Wikipedia mentions both, but again, BMI is the official definition.

    (I am curious about my body fat %, and have considered getting it measured a couple ways just to see what variations there might be. :)

  3. I totally agree on the % bodyfat thing.

    When I was young I was an elite gymnast, and they used to assess our bodyfat using skinfolds quite often (I can’t remember how often it was). I don’t recall ever being weighed though.

    It was still somewhat traumatic but fortunately at the time my results were always in the “acceptable” range. They would want to be, for 32 hours training a week at age 12!

    I do wonder though if this has impacted on me since – mentally or physically. Is it possible for your metabolism to be wonky as a result of extreme exercising when you’re young?

  4. Getting a caliper test done, to measure bodyfat, was an interesting experience for me. In terms of determining your bodyfat percentage, it’s significantly better than a bmi chart. However, in terms of an overall picture of health it makes a lot more sense to have your blood pressure checked and cholesterol counted. Most people could probably estimate their bodyfat within a couple percentage points, but would have a hard time blind-guessing their blood pressure, LDL and HDL levels.

  5. Yeah, I was perfectly astonished to find myself in the “obese” category immediately after having my last child.

    It’s not nearly so visually shocking as some people seem to imagine it is. I was still considerably taller than I was wide, for instance. LOL.

    It didn’t last long, though. Now I’m merely Overweight. Barely. Such is life.

    My mom’s the archetypal Fat Woman, though. Seriously, bigger than a lot of those “Fat American Beast” cameos in the news.

    Always thought it was odd that her portion sizes seemed so…. unremarkable.

    You’d guess that really fat people would have to shovel it in 8 hours a day to stay that fat, but they’re really much more like the rest of us than many of us would like to imagine.

    anyway, party on, fat bloggers!

  6. You know, I used to weigh more than you do now. I’m a 6ft tall female and […] I’m currently over 300lbs and my goal weight is around the 200 – 210lbs mark. Although I’ll be at the top end of the ‘overweight’ range, I think, as I’m currently doing a lot of exercise and weight training, that I’ll look the best I ever have!

    I commend you for being happy with your size, keeping mobile and promoting ‘fat acceptance’, something I knew nothing about until I came across your blog. I’m losing the weight again because I had a baby girl 6 months ago and I really want to be slimmer and healthy for her. Not to mention, everyday life was a whole lot easier when I weighed less than 250lbs than when I was over 400 – something I started to take for granted when I was slimmer and now desperately miss!

    Bye for now

    Patsy :o)

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  10. BMI is crazy! it doesn’t take into account that muscle weighs more than fat. when i got healthy (not skinny, fit) i stayed the exact same weight because i lost fat and gained muscle

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