Monday, November 15, 2010

BMI is Bullshit! (BMI of pro athletes)

I was cruising reddit today and saw a comment where a redditor was a bit disappointed that according to his BMI, he was (just barely) classified as "overweight". For those who don't know, BMI stands for Body Mass Index and is a stupid formula that divides your weight by your height squared.
BMI MIGHT have some value when determining the health of a very large population, but for an individual it is totally useless and probably dangerous! To make my point, I replied to the comment that most professional athletes would be considered OBESE according to their BMI. That got me thinking about what a pro athlete's BMI would actually be. Luckily for me, heights and weights of athletes are readily available on their rosters, so I went to work!
I studied the Detroit teams, because they have a team in every major sport and it's my home town!
BMI defines the following categories:
  • Underweight = Under 18.5
  • Normal weight = 18.5–24.9
  • Overweight = 25–29.9
  • Obesity = 30 or greater
Overall, there are 115 pro athletes on Detroit rosters. Their total average BMI is 28.3! Yep... the average Detroit pro athlete is overweight and approaching obese!
The number of athletes by category is:
  • Underweight: 0 (0.0%)
  • Normal: 24 (20.9%)
  • Overweight: 64 (55.7%)
  • Obese: 27 (23.5%)
The Lions had the highest BMI with an average of 31.2 (Obese) and 49.1% of their team falling in the obese category. Only one player was "normal" (cornerback Chris Houston at 5'11, 178 with a BMI of 24.8) and quarterback Matt Stafford snuck in JUST under obese at 6'2, 232 with a BMI of 29.8. Here's a photo of what an almost-obese person looks like.
Next fattest were the Red Wings at 27.2 (overweight), then the Tigers at 27.0 (overweight) and finally the Pistons got into the normal range just under the wire at 24.6.
At any rate, unless you think that 80% of pro athletes are overweight and need to lose weight, then it's probably time to realize that BMI is total bullshit!
Of course the REASON it's bullshit is that it doesn't take into account musculature, fitness, strength, endurance or any other reasonable measure of health or fitness.
For the same reasons, I think weight is a terrible measure of fitness! Screw the scale.
If you want a better measure of fitness, may I suggest:
  • Mile time
  • Burpees in 20 minutes
  • The mirror (not so easily measurable)
Seriously. Run a mile or do burpees for 20 minutes and see if you can improve THAT number. If you can improve one of those two by 20% the mirror test will improve considerably! Don't obsess over the scale... it just leads to yo-yo dieting and a slowed metabolism. Obsess over your burpees in 20 minutes score and you'll get fit!


Anonymous said...

Thanks for including the photo of Matt - cute!

Anonymous said...

Now if only the majority of the population were pro athletes.

(You can be 5'9", 100kg and look like Flex Wheeler, but most likely it means you have a few extra chins and a big belly.)

Anonymous said...

The BMI range vs obesity figures only apply to the population. They are based on statistics of the population as a whole. As with all statistical indices they don't apply to individuals or groups which don't fit the average - if you do this your conclusion will be crap! Athletes are not average people they have low fat and often high muscle mass. Your example is where high muscle mass pushes up the BMI. The scarey thing is medical treatment is based largely on applying statistics to individuals in the same way. Too bad if you are not one of the "average" people.