What is the Body Mass Index and is it Useful?

We hear about the Body Mass Index, also known as the BMI, almost every day in fitness magazines, on television shows and on the Internet. After all, it is a useful tool. We can simply enter our height and weight and a computer program spits out a number that tells us if we are underweight, normal weight, overweight or obese. But what exactly is the BMI and how is it useful?

The BMI uses a ratio including height and weight to give us an approximation as to whether a patient qualifies for bariatric surgery. Those with a BMI between 35 and 39.9 may qualify for bariatric surgery if they have certain obesity related diseases.  Additionally, anyone with a BMI of over 40 may qualify for surgery.

However, the BMI is useful as a rough guide, and only that. The BMI was developed without regard for gender, age, body frame and muscle mass, which means that it is optimal for the average person. Of course very few of us match this average exactly meaning that our BMI calculations may actually vary slightly from what we see in front of us.

Because of the approximations that the BMI gives us, we only use it as a basic qualifier for bariatric surgery. The FDA also uses minimum BMI levels as a guideline for those who want to undergo bariatric surgery. However, the true determination of whether a patient qualifies for bariatric surgery requires several physical and psychological tests, which not only give us an idea of medical necessity but also surgical risk. We also need to know if the patient is ready for the significant lifestyle change responsibilities they will have after surgery. Taking this entire picture into account allows us to offer our patients the most effective and safe procedures for their particular circumstance.

So in conclusion, the BMI calculation is useful; however it is not the final say in qualifying for bariatric surgery.

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