Can a higher Body Mass Index (BMI) be healthy?

Yes as long as the person is declared “healthy” after a physical examination. Muscular athletes often have high BMIs but are healthy. There are many healthy people that have a higher BMI than the suggested healthy range of 18.5-24.9 due to a higher muscle mass than overweight individuals.  Since BMI is calculated from a formula involving only height and weight, BMI does not predict well for most muscular individuals. However, it does help determine health risk for the vast majority of the population. For example: Two persons of the same height and weight will have an equal BMI. Now let’s suppose that BMI is 30, which is considered unhealthy, but one person is athletic and muscular with a low body percentage (such as women between 16-24% or men 12-18%) and the other has a much higher percentage of body fat. The latter would be at health risk while the muscular counterpart is probably not only healthy but may even be healthier than many other people with lower BMIs. This of course presumes this muscular person doesn’t have other health problems unrelated to weight.

According the National Institute of Health, a BMI of 18.5-24.9 is considered normal. Another tool that may be of interest to you in preserving your health throughout life is waist circumference (waist to hip ratio can be a measurement of abdominal fat distribution). This, along with BMI, has been shown to correlate strongly with health risks (e.g. heart and metabolic disease). Click Assessing your Risk <http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/public/heart/obesity/lose_wt/risk.htm> from the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute for more information. And finally, we always prefer using a body fat measurement for assessing health risk related to weight (see below for ranges) but it’s not always practical, which is why other measurements are more commonly used.

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