Flickr Images

Flickr Images

“You’re overweight, borderline obese.”

This was what Christopher was told when he attended his corporate health check. The person conducting the check went on to suggest that he take a look at his diet and perhaps think about healthy options. While they didn’t come out and say “you need to lose weight”, that was the clear implication.

And how did they arrive at this advice?

A 10-minute check-up in which Christopher was weighed, measured and asked to do some basic stretches to assess flexibility, along with completing a two-page survey about lifestyle habits and exercise. The data was fed into a laptop and his body mass index (BMI) was calculated.

While the laptop and BMI formula gave the impression that this was a scientific test, the advice was anything but. Science, after all, isn’t gospel. It requires critical thinking, analysis and interpretation.

Unfortunately, many of the people running these checks seem to have an unwavering faith in the tools of their trade.

Despite asking questions about his lifestyle, the diagnosis and advice seemed to be reduced to a BMI number.

What the BMI calculation couldn’t possibly account for – since BMI is a crude measure based only on a person’s weight and height – is that Christopher has the physique of sprinter; all muscle and not a skerrick of fat to be seen.

The BMI app, and the person who relayed the results, also did not consider that Christopher goes to the gym six times a week, already has a highly restrictive diet, and is a recovering anorexic.

Fortunately, this experience didn’t trigger a recurrence of his eating disorder. But that’s not the point. Given the lengthy and complicated path to eating disorder recovery, it could have.

Not only can this type of advice be psychologically harmful, it also unlikely to inspire people to adopt healthier lifestyles.

– Kasey Edwards

Read more: Why reducing advice to a BMI is hurting our health