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Problems with the BMI for Women of Color

Problems with the BMI for Women of Color

If you are a regular on my blog then you probably know how much I can’t stand the BMI and how Black women are supposed to be judged using it in regards to body fat.  I posted a piece just last week called, Exercise benefits black girls less than whites, study shows, which pretty much showed us getting the short end of the stick (yet again) in a study.  

I share my posts in groups I’m in on Facebook and in one of the groups we had a very spirited debate about Black women and obesity and the usage of the BMI on our bodies.  I, along with another group members, feel the BMI is not geared towards Black women, or even to a lot of women.  We had two other women who completely disagreed with us and felt the BMI was a true indicator for all women.

Needless to say, neither side saw eye to eye and we left with the nagging issue of who is right?  Well, I have two resources to gain some much needed insight.  First of all I have to admit that the first quote discussing an article in  Essence is one that I have not PERSONALLY read so I am merely giving second-hand info.

As I was reading the November issue of Essence, I came across an article entitled, “The Other Big O.” An article discussing the problem of obesity (specifically black women, but this applies to all non-Caucasian men and women) and BMI. The main point of this article was that: “BMI was developed to define obesity, primarily based on Caucasian populations because at that time we didn’t have good data on racial and ethnic minorities” – John Foreyt, Ph.D.”


“The body mass index (BMI) formula uses height and weight to determine a person’s amount of body fat. BMI classifies persons in four different weight ranges: underweight, normal, overweight and obese. While BMI is a fast and easy way to assess body fat content, its limitations question the effectiveness and appropriateness of using BMI as a true measurement of body fat. The American Council on Exercise recommends assessing BMI in conjunction with other body composition assessments to guarantee accuracy.

Not a Direct Measurement of Fat

While height and and weight influence body fat, they are not direct measurements of total body fat percentage. BMI does not distinguish between bones, fat and muscles.”

Like I said above, I’m not sure about the Essence Magazine mention, but stating the BMI was created with only Caucasians in mind is believable.  I also find the discussion in Livestrong to be valid and with all that in mind many people may be falling short or in relation to the subject, obese…

So, what does this all mean?????  To me and to many other people, especially women, we are being called fat or overweight when we may not necessarily BE overweight.  Should there be an overhaul and revamping of the BMI?  I think so or at least create ones that takes other body types into consideration…but really there is no one asking me for my advice so don’t expect that to come about anytime soon.

I’d love to know how you feel about the BMI or just read the Livestrong article completely and tell me what you think.  I’m not looking for excuses or trying to say there aren’t Black women who are obese.  I’m not saying we have bigger bones or are naturally thick.  I’m just saying I have a REAL problem with the BMI being an accurate indicator for body fat for Black women, women of color or even for ALL women. 

Let’s discuss that darned BMI Naturals,


Leave a Reply


  1. June 14, 2012 / 2:13 pm

    I believe the BMI scale doesn't work for many people. If you use just height and weight to determine body fat then what about muscle. When I was a nationally ranked athlete in high school and college I was told that I was over weight. You could clearly see that I was mostly muscle considering that I worked out 4 hours a day. I had six pack abs and very cut muscle tone. As far as I'm concerned the BMI scale is nothing set in concrete. It's just an indicator.

    • June 17, 2012 / 11:23 pm

      I'm glad you say that because some are accusing people who have problems with the BMI as women in denial. It's a real issue that needs to be addressed or revamped.

  2. May 5, 2021 / 11:10 am

    BMI is a good starting point but ONLY for deconditioned individuals with low lean body mass. BMI is good for AVERAGE populations, people that walk their dogs, maybe roller skate or bike with the kids occasionally, swim here and there, do housework and gardening here and there. It is not designed for fitness enthusiasts, African Americans or body builders. Even for blacks, highly technical body fat measuring tools like BODPOD (which uses air displacement vs water displacement which is considered the most accurate measurement of body fat that we know), has a separate setting for Black men and a different one for Black women. They scientifically acknowledge the difference in skeletal weight/bone density and muscularity that Blacks have vs Europeans and Asians.

    I wouldn’t shoot BMI down completely, because like I said, for the average person it is a fine tool and accurate. But once you delve into athletes, weight lifters, body builders or anyone with a lot of lean muscle tissue or a heavy skeleton (like someone tall), then BMI is useless. Body fat testing is far better and more accurately measures your true body composition.