Now even “normal” isn’t thin enough

On a new study as reported by Reuter’s Health Blog: Now even a “normal” BMI may not be an indicator of whether or not to lose weight.

It seems that measuring body fat, rather than tracking your weight on a body mass index scale, can more accurately identify whether you need a lifestyle overhaul to lose weight. Excess body fat is a risk factor for a myriad of health problems, including heart disease and diabetes.

Two assumptions made here: the level of body fat on a person’s body is due to lifestyle (and is a “choice”), and the last line about how excess body fat is a “risk factor” of disease X, Y, and DIABEETUS. Fat is not a choice, it has not been shown that fat causes diabetes.

But wait, there’s more:

Researchers found that the BMI Index usually under identifies risk, meaning that even those categorized as “Normal” might have a risky level of body fat.

Yes, haven’t we suspected all along this isn’t really about “normal,” is it? This is about thin. This is about anti-fat, anti-jiggle anywhere on the body. This is about a hatred of people who have any fat on them.

Wait a minute, what about large-breasted, large-assed women? Do they have a “risky” level of body fat? Oh, you say that that kind of body fat is okay, it’s just that icky stomach jiggle that causes risks?

Colombo and colleagues recruited 23 men and 40 women, aged 20 to 65 years, to undergo body composition analysis. The volunteers were healthy, but led sedentary lives and were not following a low-calorie diet.

Wait a minute, you mean that people can be healthy even if they lead sedentary lives and don’t follow a low-calorie diet? Better not let that information spread too far, or some people might actually want to attempt to free themselves from the oppression of calorie-counting and minute-counting.

The BMI Index calculations identified 11% of the group as strongly needing to lose weight, while waist circumference measurements identified 25%.

“Using criteria based on body adiposity (fatness) rather than body weight would result in a much greater proportion of the study population receiving recommendations for weight loss,” Colombo said.

Great, that’s what we need: an even tighter ‘crack-down’ on our smallest jiggle. For those of “normal” BMI who could have a “risky” amount of fat, check out the BMI Project.

Note: I accidentally published this instead of saving it as a draft, so it’s going to get a couple more edits before I’m done this morning (notably, filling in a couple links).

11 comments on “Now even “normal” isn’t thin enough

  1. ciocia says:

    I don’t see what the big deal is. Haven’t FA people always said that thinness, of itself, is not evidence of health or fitness? That’s what this study is saying.

  2. BigLiberty says:

    We also maintain that amount of body fat, in and of itself, is not evidence of health or fitness. The study subjects were described as “healthy, but led sedentary lives and were not following a low-calorie diet.” Yet it was determined by the amount of body fat on their bodies alone, that they had “risk factors” (i.e., their BMI’s were in the “healthy” range yet some were determined to have a “risky” amount of body fat, regardless of their BMI’s). It’s supplanting one ‘indicator’ for another: body fat percentage for BMI. Whether or not excess body fat causes diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, etc has yet to be determined. Therefore, admonishing people for their body fat is just as arbitrary as admonishing people for their BMI.

    That’s what us “FA people” are saying.

  3. Sandy says:

    On the one hand it is good that someone is realizing that BMI isn’t a good tool for…well…anything.

    On the other hand it is just going to create more EDs because the anorexic next door is going to see that thin doesn’t mean you don’t have body fat and will work harder to get rid of it.

    They really need to stop with these stupid studies.

  4. peggynature says:

    For a long time, or at least since The Nurses’ Health Study, Manson and Willett have advocated a ‘healthy weight’ that’s below the ‘normal’ BMI range (a BMI of 19, I believe, is what they came up with as ideal for white women.)

    It’s amazing to me that people who advocate this kind of thing never seem to stop to check their own biases, even for a second, or consider the idea that they might be promoting a cultural ideal, not a medical one.

  5. peggynature says:

    Sorry, that should say “low end of normal BMI range” since I guess the cut-off is actually 18.5. For some reason I thought it was 20?

  6. BigLiberty says:

    Peggy, thanks for the link! Reading that abstract is fascinating, especially since I thought the most widely accepted study at this point had determined the BMI range with the lowest “relative” mortality risk was the “overweight” category.

    I have a tiny bit of Baloney to contend upon skimming the abstract:

    body-mass index <19.0 (the reference category), relative risk = 1.0;

    Now isn’t it a little deceptive to say BMI “<19.0” — doesn’t that include, I dunno, people who have a BMI of 17, 15, 12? Certainly there was a cutoff ‘lowest’ BMI observed in their study, and they should reference it. They can’t speak for BMI’s of 12.0, for instance, if their thinnest person has a BMI of 17.5 (I’m just throwing a number out there, I’m not sure what the lowest BMI of this study was). “<19.0” is inferring (even if they later out-and-out say the lowest BMI they studied) that thinner = lower risk, automatically. They aren’t referencing the other end of the J-curve, just focusing on the part they want to play up (obesity, omg).

  7. lillian64 says:

    I’ve talked about a number of these issues on my site.

    I’ve been pressured to lose weight many times when I weighed less than BMI 25. I’ve called obese when my weight was barely in the overweight category. And no one has ever taken a measurement of my body fat outside the time I was in the Navy. The Navy uses measurements, not calipers or water displacement which I hear is inaccurate, but it’s easy to use and give a more accurate picture than BMI.

    At least, with measurements, one doesn’t tell a skinny girl to lose weight. One time that a nurse called me obese I wanted to take off my pants and ask her to put them on. BMI doesn’t take into account muscle and bone mass.

    I hear too many people in the ‘normal’ range complain about osteoporosis. Being so thin that your bones break sounds so healthy to me. It’s a known fact that ‘overweight’ people don’t die from falls and aren’t as likely to break bones if they do fall on top of all the other protection (not developing anemia, more like to recover from an infection, cold, flu, etc) .

  8. rioiriri says:

    It’s not a matter of what we are saying in FA about body size not being an indicator of health; it’s the mounting hysteria regarding adipose tissue, and the ever-tightening standards to make everyone into a patient in dire “need” of intervention.

    Just like when they lowered the blood pressure standards and cholesterol standards to create more people who “needed” pills, this is another excuse to sell medical treatment to people who don’t need it–either by making “normal” people pursue weight loss of some kind, or by making them line up for CT scans to ease their fears about being invisibly fat.

    Enough already!

  9. BigLiberty says:


    Last year I was thinking of joining the Air Force. I have degrees in physics and mathematics, I’m hard-working and fit, and loyal. Do you know what kept me from applying? The strict height/weight requirement. I didn’t match up to what they wanted; the only time I’d been as thin as what they were looking for, I was in the depth of my ED.

  10. anniemcphee says:

    BL I think I finally got the comments thing down! Woot! Now you won’t be able to get rid of me lol. Lovin’ your blog, though I can’t touch the abuse part yet – too painful; I tried.

    Anyway my problem was being too dopey to log in – not on your end at all, so rest easy girlfriend 🙂

  11. BigLiberty says:

    Nice to see you on, Annie! I have to catch up with comments today; I’m going to do that instead of posting. 😉 Don’t worry about the abuse…it’s hard for me to write, I know it’s hard for others to read. But maybe it’ll help someone out there…I dunno. I hope so.

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