An Indiana student has refused to complete a homework assignment asking her to define BMI (body mass index) and to calculate her own.
Instead, the teen wrote a passionate essay outlining why the BMI is an "outdated" measure. A proud family friend posted her response to Facebook applauding her willingness to stand up for herself and rail against "the body-shape norms that persecute our children."
In her essay, the young woman outlined one of the main problems with the BMI: that it doesn't distinguish between muscle and fat. She wrote, "…let's say there is a fairly athletic woman who maintains a decent diet, she's five feet, six inches and she weighs 190lbs. But, 80 per cent of her body is muscle. That doesn't matter when calculating BMI! This woman's BMI would be 30.7 and she would be labelled as obese."
"Does that make sense to you?" she argued. "Because it sure doesn't make sense to me."
"BMI is an outdated way of determining a person's body health," she wrote "and it's a measurement that should NOT be used in a school setting where students are already self-conscious and lacking confidence in their unique bodies."
Addressing the second part of her assignment, the high schooler stated that she wasn't even going to open her laptop to calculate her BMI. "Ever since I can remember, I've been a bigger girl and I'm completely fine with that; I'm strong and powerful," she said.
"But, at the beginning of the year, I started having very bad thoughts when my body was brought into conversation."
The teen described that she would wear four bras to try and cover up her "back fat" and would wrap bandages around her stomach in an attempt to look "skinnier."
Concerned about her daughter, the young woman's mother took her to the doctor where they discussed her diet and active lifestyle. "He did a couple of tests and told me I was fine," she said. "...though I'm a bit overweight, he's not going to worry about me based on how healthy I am."
The teenager stated that she would not be calculating her BMI as her doctor, "a man who went to college for eight years studying children's health, told me my height and weight are right on track."
"I'm beginning to love my body, like I should, and I'm not going to let some outdated calculator and middle school gym teacher tell me I'm obese, because I'm not."
"My BMI is none of your concern because my body and BMI are perfect and beautiful just the way they are."
Is the BMI an outdated and inaccurate measure?
Robbie Clark is a Sydney-based dietician and nutritionist and co-founder of the first online nutrition clinic in Australia. Clark explains that differences in BMI between people of the same age and sex are usually due to body fat. There are exceptions to this rule however, which is why, he notes, the use of the BMI has led to "much confusion and misinformation."
"The BMI can't distinguish between fat and muscle (which tends to be heavier)." Clark says, "and can place more muscular individuals into the overweight category, even if their fat levels are low." He also notes that the BMI doesn't take into consideration where the body stores fat.
Clark highlights that the use of BMI in children and adolescents is also controversial "because they are constantly growing until they reach adulthood." As such, it's difficult to have set values for BMI cut-offs.
"It is very common for teens to gain weight quickly during puberty and as a result see their BMI go up," says Clark. "It is normal for children to have different amounts of body fat at different ages, and this will differ between genders. Therefore, it's important to take these factors into consideration when determining healthy weight categories for these age groups."
Clark explains that teenagers experience growth spurts at different times and different ages. "Therefore," he says, "BMI fluctuations will continuously occur during these stages of life. This can be detrimental to the mental health of a child and/or teenager if they are using this as a sole measure to compare body types with their classmates and friends."
So, it sounds like the high school essayist was onto something after all. And, as one Facebook commenter said, "Athletic AND Brilliant. You go girl!"