The truth about those BMI numbers

  • A dispute after a rugby game? Surely not!
  • Why these numbers don’t add up
  • A simple way to measure yourself that really works

It’s not been a great few weeks as a Welsh rugby fan.

For those who haven’t been following the Six Nations tournament this year (2023) we have played two games and lost both.

Although my hopes are high for this weekend when we meet England.

As is my custom I usually take up a seat at my local and enjoy/endure the games amongst friends.

So far the experience hasn’t been fun, and many a heated debate has broken out.

Some of this about the games we are watching, but our discussions do vary around the theme.

And that brings me to today’s topic.

It’s all about numbers.

But not the game scores, this is much more health related.

After the Scotland/Wales game a debate began, and that is what the talk of numbers is all about.

One chap was saying that the size and speed of modern rugby players was making the game dangerous, and this was partly responsible for the rising casualty list.

The consensus was that players now were bulking up through specialised diets and much improved training and body building exercises and what we were watching were fit, healthy and incredibly powerful gladiators rather than sportsmen.

All of which is undoubtedly true until someone else ventured that if they were to visit their GP’s they would be put on strict diets and told they were obese.

The pub collapsed in howls of laughter at the thought… but as the chap persisted he was proven right.

The numbers don’t add up

In the nineteenth century a Belgian scientist called Adolph Quetelet (1796-1874) devised a formula to describe the ‘average man’.

This process was a simple bit of mathematics where the weight in kilograms was divided by the square of the height of the person in metres.

Today we know this equation as the Body Mass Index (BMI) and recognise that it gets used to assess how fat we are, and by association how healthy we might be.

The professionals use a scale of BMI to identify your state and categorise you as follows;

You are considered underweight if your BMI is 18.5 or lower, normal weight if 18.5 to 24.9), overweight with scores of 25 to 29.9, and topping the table you are clinically obese if you rack up a BMI of 30 and over.

Which all sounds like a jolly good idea until you look at any of the 30 players on the field at Murrayfield and realise that not one of them classes as normal and most as obese.

Under normal circumstances this would indicate that they are in an unhealthy state, yet we are talking about fit and agile professional sportsmen here.

This shows how badly flawed the BMI calculation is.

Unfortunately, very few health professionals admit this, and will gamely grab their calculators to prove how dangerous your vital numbers are…

…and using this to instantly decide that you need statins, blood pressure medications and something to lower blood sugar levels!

The NHS has almost become Pavlovian in its approach to BMI, instinctively reaching for the prescription pad as soon as you’re not tall enough for your weight.

As the good fellow in the snug was explaining to us

He was accosted by his GP as his BMI showed that he was now in the overweight category and told, not that he needed to modify his diet, but that he needed to control his cholesterol levels…

…without there ever having been a blood test that showed his cholesterol levels were too high.

The GP actually said to him that blood tests were unreliable and that was why statins were getting a bad reputation…

…The filthy work of the drug company PR people at work once again.

But if the BMI is not to be believed is there another equally simple way to monitor your own health?

You betcha! Let me explain.

Watch your waist and keep obesity at bay

There are dozens of ways to find out if you’re overweight, but new evidence suggests that the best way is to look at your hips and waist.

Apparently, the amount of body fat stored around the abdomen, compared that stored on the hips, is a more accurate gauge of likely health risks than your BMI.

To check your fat distribution, simply divide your waist size by your hip size. This will give you your ratio.

So if you have a 30-inch waist and 40-inch hip circumference, your ratio would be 0.75.

But if you have a 41-inch waist and 39-inch hips, then it’s ratio of 1.05.

It’s clear that the lower ratio you have, the better off your health is likely to be.

The risk of heart disease rises sharply for women with ratios above 0.8 and for men with ratios above 1.0.

Here’s a basic guide:

– Women whose waistlines are over 31.5 inches and men whose waists measure over 37 inches should watch their weight.

– Any more than 35 inches in women and 40 inches in men has been associated with an increased risk of heart disease.

(In one 2000 study, a high triglyceride level, along with a waist measurement of over 36 inches, meant a higher likelihood of heart problems for men.)

So if you find yourself tipping the wrong side of this index the clear indication is to increase the exercise slightly, drop a few of the obvious dietary culprits and lay off the demon drink…

…except if you have to celebrate a fine display of attacking rugby when the old enemy comes a visiting!

Here’s hoping anyway.