What Is This BMI?

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What exactly is this BMI we hear so much about? A definition proffered by MedifastArizona.com goes like this:

Obesity is defined as an excessive amount of body fat in relation to lean body mass. This is generally calculated by physicians as body mass index (BMI), a formula that takes into account height. This is calculated by taking your weight in pounds and dividing that by the square of your height in inches and then multiplying that figure by 703.

The resulting figure is used by pediatricians, schools, and weight-loss programs of every stripe. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends early childhood measurement of the BMI percentile, in order to identify children at risk for obesity.

A child in the 95th percentile is in the top 5%, weight-wise, because that child weighs more than 95% of the other children of comparable age and gender.

Heart.org. explains that children older than two years are defined as severely obese “if they either have a body mass index that’s at least 20 percent higher than the 95th percentile for their gender and age, or a BMI score of 35 or higher.”

Indeed, severe obesity is a newly defined risk classification, which includes around 5% of kids in America. Their future holds type 2 diabetes and heart disease, and treatment options seem, at present, to be limited. Or perhaps only the vision of the medical establishment is limited.

At any rate, this heart connection is not just a figment of the imagination. For instance, the Million Women Study showed, as no other large-scale study had done, that coronary heart disease increases progressively with BMI. Also, the correlation, which means an increased risk of death, is present in all subgroups. Which subgroups were those? The ones defined by “age, smoking, physical activity, alcohol consumption, and socioeconomic class.”

In Preventing Childhood Obesity: Evidence Policy and Practice, edited by Elizabeth Waters, the point is made that in the past, morbidity and mortality
related more to infectious diseases, until a “dramatic shift” took place. Now, more deaths result from causes related to lifestyle, like obesity. This brings up the whole question of what “lifestyle” means, and whether all the people who try so hard and unsuccessfully to control their weight through diet and exercise are really choosing that “lifestyle.” But those are questions for another day.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Psychological Effects of Obesity on Adolescents,” medifastarizona.com, 04/16/14
Source: “5 percent of U.S. children, teens classified as ‘severely obese’,” Heart.org, 09/09/13
Source: “Body mass index and incident coronary heart disease in women: a population-based prospective study,” BioMedCentral.com, 04/02/13
Source: “Preventing Childhood Obesity: Evidence Policy and Practice,” Books.Google.com
Image by Andrew Malone

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OVERWEIGHT: What Kids Say explores the obesity problem from the often-overlooked perspective of children struggling with being overweight.

About Dr. Robert A. Pretlow

Dr. Robert A. Pretlow is a pediatrician and childhood obesity specialist. He has been researching and spreading awareness on the childhood obesity epidemic in the US for more than a decade.
You can contact Dr. Pretlow at:


Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the American Society of Animal Science 2020 Conference
What’s Causing Obesity in Companion Animals and What Can We Do About It

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the World Obesity Federation 2019 Conference:
Food/Eating Addiction and the Displacement Mechanism

Dr. Pretlow’s Multi-Center Clinical Trial Kick-off Speech 2018:
Obesity: Tackling the Root Cause

Dr. Pretlow’s 2017 Workshop on
Treatment of Obesity Using the Addiction Model

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation for
TEC and UNC 2016

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the 2015 Obesity Summit in London, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s invited keynote at the 2014 European Childhood Obesity Group Congress in Salzburg, Austria.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2013 European Congress on Obesity in Liverpool, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2011 International Conference on Childhood Obesity in Lisbon, Portugal.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2010 Uniting Against Childhood Obesity Conference in Houston, TX.

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