The American Medical Association (AMA) stirred up controversy a few days ago. According to the organization's press release, the Body Mass Index (BMI) is a "racist" way of measuring whether a person is obese or not.
Their main argument is based on the fact that this measure mainly collects data from generations of non-Hispanic whites and does not take into account differences between racial/ethnic groups, sexes, gender and age:
The AMA recognizes issues with using BMI as a measurement due to its historical harm, its use for racist exclusion, and because BMI is based primarily on data collected from previous generations of non-Hispanic white populations.
New variables to measure obesity
Due to this, the medical organization recommended adopting new measures that, together with BMI, allow health personnel to diagnose whether a person had problems with their weight. It suggests taking into account the various factors that could determine whether a person was obese or not:
The AMA suggests that it be used in conjunction with other valid measures of risk such as, but not limited to, measurements of visceral fat, body adiposity index, body composition, relative fat mass, waist circumference and genetic/metabolic factors. The policy noted that BMI is significantly correlated with the amount of fat mass in the general population but loses predictability when applied on the individual level. The AMA also recognizes that relative body shape and composition differences across race/ethnic groups, sexes, genders, and age span is essential to consider when applying BMI as a measure of adiposity and that BMI should not be used as a sole criterion to deny appropriate insurance reimbursement.
Physicians are divided on the usefulness of BMI
Physicians haven't been able to agree on whether BMI is a good index for measuring obesity in the general population. Former AMA president Dr. Jack Resneck said that several of his colleagues had expressed concern about the way BMI was used to diagnose obesity:
There are numerous concerns with the way BMI has been used to measure body fat and diagnose obesity, yet some physicians find it to be a helpful measure in certain scenarios. It is important for physicians to understand the benefits and limitations of using BMI in clinical settings to determine the best care for their patients.
Exercise physiologist Brad Dieter does not fully agree. He told Health that BMI was a good tool to prevent possible health complications due to excess weight:
The best way to think about BMI is as a risk-prediction tool. Think about it like age. Regardless of what else is going on, the older you are, the more likely you are to have a chronic health condition. The same is true with BMI. The higher your BMI, the more at risk you are for a poor health outcome.