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Patient education: Understanding body mass index (BMI) (The Basics)

Patient education: Understanding body mass index (BMI) (The Basics)

What is body mass index? — Body mass index, or "BMI," is a calculation doctors use to help understand a person's health. For adults, weight and height are used to calculate BMI (table 1).

Based on this number, people who are White, Hispanic, or Black fall into 1 of these categories:

Underweight – BMI under 18.5.

Healthy weight – BMI between 18.5 and 24.9.

Overweight – BMI between 25 and 29.9.

Having obesity – BMI 30 or greater.

For people who are Asian, the cutoff numbers are a little different:

Overweight – BMI between 23 and 24.9.

Having obesity – BMI 25 or greater.

Your doctor or nurse will often calculate your BMI as part of a routine check-up. They will also measure around your belly. People who carry extra weight in the belly area might be at higher risk for health problems.

You can also calculate your BMI at home using a chart or online calculator.

How is a child's BMI calculated? — BMI can be calculated for children using their height and weight. A child's BMI is then compared with a "growth chart." Growth charts have information about the typical heights and weights of children who are the same age and sex. Doctors use BMI and the growth chart together to find out if a child is underweight, a healthy weight, overweight, or has obesity. What counts as being underweight or overweight for children is different than for adults.

If you have a question about a child's weight or BMI, talk to their doctor.

Should I see a doctor or nurse? — If you have concerns about your weight, see your doctor or nurse. If you calculated your BMI at home, the doctor or nurse can help you understand what it means. They can also give you advice on how to maintain a healthy weight and lifestyle.

What does my BMI mean? — Doctors use BMI to help understand the effect that your weight has on your health. In general, having obesity can increase the risk of having other health problems. These include:

Diabetes

High blood pressure

High cholesterol

Heart disease (including heart attacks)

Stroke

Sleep apnea (when you stop breathing for short periods of time while asleep)

Asthma

Cancer

You might also have trouble moving, breathing, or doing other things if you have obesity.

Being underweight can be bad for your health, too.

Remember that your weight and BMI are just pieces of your overall health. Someone with a lower BMI might not be healthy overall, and someone with a higher BMI can still be healthy. Other factors, like whether or not you smoke, also play a role.

No matter what your BMI is, try to live a healthy lifestyle. This includes not smoking, eating plenty of healthy foods like fruits and vegetables, and moving your body. Talk to your doctor about your overall health and what you can do to improve it.

What if I don't want to talk to my doctor about my BMI or weight? — You can tell them that you are not comfortable talking about these things. You can ask them to focus on other parts of your health instead.

Remember that your doctor understands that managing weight can be difficult. If you are interested, they can work with you to develop a weight management plan.

More on this topic

Patient education: Diet and health (The Basics)
Patient education: Exercise and movement (The Basics)
Patient education: Exercise and movement as you get older (The Basics)
Patient education: Health risks of obesity (The Basics)
Patient education: Weight loss treatments (The Basics)
Patient education: Weight and health in children (The Basics)

Patient education: Diet and health (Beyond the Basics)
Patient education: Exercise (Beyond the Basics)
Patient education: Losing weight (Beyond the Basics)

This topic retrieved from UpToDate on: Jun 02, 2024.
Disclaimer: This generalized information is a limited summary of diagnosis, treatment, and/or medication information. It is not meant to be comprehensive and should be used as a tool to help the user understand and/or assess potential diagnostic and treatment options. It does NOT include all information about conditions, treatments, medications, side effects, or risks that may apply to a specific patient. It is not intended to be medical advice or a substitute for the medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment of a health care provider based on the health care provider's examination and assessment of a patient's specific and unique circumstances. Patients must speak with a health care provider for complete information about their health, medical questions, and treatment options, including any risks or benefits regarding use of medications. This information does not endorse any treatments or medications as safe, effective, or approved for treating a specific patient. UpToDate, Inc. and its affiliates disclaim any warranty or liability relating to this information or the use thereof. The use of this information is governed by the Terms of Use, available at https://www.wolterskluwer.com/en/know/clinical-effectiveness-terms. 2024© UpToDate, Inc. and its affiliates and/or licensors. All rights reserved.
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