When outside appearances and weight define “healthy,” relying on scales and measuring tapes may not tell the whole story.
Some follow diets or exercise routines to stay in shape, and others use quantitative measurements like a scale or Body Mass Index to measure individual fitness, but these numbers can be misleading, according to a 2008 U.S. National Library of Medicine study.
“Studies have shown that BMI measurements are completely inaccurate because people have different body compositions, and muscle weighs more than fat,” Strength and Conditioning Coach Barclay Spring said. “If somebody is short and very muscular, their BMI is going to be high, which is thought to be bad when that’s not necessarily the case.”
Body Mass Index, a calculation based on an individual’s height and weight, places an individual in categories ranging from Underweight to Obese, which corresponds to whether or not the individual may be at a higher risk for health issues. BMI does not actually state a person’s level of health, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
While there is a correlation between BMI results and actual body fat, BMI is limited in its ability to diagnose those in the overweight and intermediate categories because it does not take into account body fat distribution, according to an NLM study.
After rowing for five years, senior Camilla Sigmund says she has seen this inaccuracy with boys on the men’s rowing team for her club.
“I have friends on the men’s team who are around 220 pounds and 6 foot 3 inches tall and their BMI tells them they are overweight,” Sigmund said. “They’re not overweight because of fat — it’s muscle. I’ve seen them lift their body weight, and there’s no way they’re unhealthy.”
Weight can fluctuate multiple times throughout the day depending on the type and amount of food a person has consumed as well as the what time a person eats, according to Spring.
“I don’t recommend people weighing themselves any more than once a week,” Spring said. “A lot of people get stuck on the number on the scale instead of the actual health of their bodies.”
Finding the correct dietary plan and exercise routine that makes the body look and feel good may seem like the end of the issue, but there is also a mental aspect of health, according to Sigmund.
“Healthy shouldn’t be all about the way that you look, it’s how you feel, which also extends to your brain,” Sigmund said. “If you’re eating well and exercising enough but are constantly thinking about your diet, your mindset is not healthy. This can be even more harmful to your health than the food you eat.”
Focusing too much on having the correct diet and exercise routine can be especially harmful to athletes who use measurements like BMI to quantify their progress.
“When people work really hard to have good body composition and get a number that says they’re unhealthy when they’re not, it can make people really upset,” Spring said.
Many athletes justify unhealthy eating habits and pressure to have a certain body type with sports they are playing, according to Sigmund. Sixty-six percent of Convent students said they have lost weight or dieted for a sport, according to a Broadview survey.
“In the athletic world, women especially are pressured to have an athletic build and playing sports can convince them that their body type isn’t good enough which is tied into the media too,” senior Kate Ward said. “What the media says is healthy won’t always mean healthy for you.”