BMI and Health in Nature

I was thinking today about the BMI Scale.  About how, according to proponents of this scale (who currently include most doctors), all humans should fit into a very narrow ratio of weight and height in order to be considered normal (and, somewhat inexplicably considering the complete lack of causal proof, healthy)

And I thought, surely if this is the case it will be born out in the rest of nature.  So I started with animals, horses to be exact:

Pardon the pun but Whoa Nellie!  Those horses have drastically different sizes, and height/weight proportionality – yet they are all considered normal and healthy (indeed – these are the models of perfection) for the type of horse they are.  Or maybe it’s just that nobody really speaks “horse” and so we can’t tell the Shetland Pony and the Shire that they need to cut down on the hay and run a few more laps of the pasture until they look like the Arabian. I wonder if donkeys are sad that they get left out of this chart?

So then I looked at vegetation.  I thought that maybe with horses I’d looked at too broad a spectrum and that in this case I’d just look at broad leafed trees.

Oh my, the Walnut and the Beech clearly need to  do a little more waving in the wind. And that Palm tree – way too skinny.  Can you eat a sandwich through capillary action?

So then I looked at minerals.  Surely in the hard and fast (I’m on a roll with these puns – sorry) world of tourmaline we will find a model of the narrow scale of size to which we are holding humans.

You have got to be kidding me!  Look at all that size diversity.  This proof of BMI across nature thing isn’t working at all! (If rocks could talk do you think they’d be foolish enough to ask “does this moss make me  look fat?”).

So surely it must at least be consistent in humans.  Feet for instance, if human bodies are supposed to fit into a narrow range, then surely our feet will too.


Did you know that men’s shoe sizes go from size 3 to size 20 with widths from AAAA to EEEE?!  And don’t even get me started on various arches and toe lengths.  So you can be a 3 EEEE (short and wide) with your big toe as your longest toe, or a 20 AAAA (long and thin) with your second toe as your longest toe, and we think that’s just fine.  In fact, about sixty percent of people don’t even have two feet that match – one is bigger than the other.  But if your body is short and wide then clearly there is something wrong with you.

So once again I say that using BMI as a measurement that tells you anything other than the ratio of someone’s weight to their height is crap.  If you want to talk about health, then use some measures of actual health.  If you want me to believe that I can’t be healthy until I fit into a very narrow size range then take a hike (and look around at nature while you do it).

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Published in: on January 6, 2011 at 5:49 am  Comments (18)  

18 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. It’s pretty silly to apply that measurement to rocks, Regan. Oh, wait, it’s silly to apply it to people, too! I see what you did there.

    And though no one will probably try to judge my health by the shape of my feet, having odd-shaped feet makes it very difficult to find shoes that fit.

    Still, as grand and wonderful it is to have such a diversity in shapes and sizes of horses, trees, rocks and feet, isn’t it also great that people come in so many shapes and sizes?

    • Indeed it is great that people come in all shapes and sizes! I agree with the odd shaped feet. My feet are short and wide (most of the women in my family are short and think with short, wide feet. I’m short and wide with short, wide feet). I have to say that I’ve fallen in love with Zappos.com🙂

  2. Absolutely FABULOUS post!😀
    The best thing i have seen all day, & definitely something to share – will be posting on lifeinfullcolour’s facebook page!

    • Yay! I’m glad you liked it and thanks for the repost! ~Ragen

  3. Excellent…as usual!

  4. I thought of you and your blog the other day Ragen when I was talking to my best friend. Turns out every time she goes to the doctor, he tells her she is obese because she does not fit within the parameters of the BMI. I was appalled because she is 5’2 with a gorgeous hourglass shape with a tiny little waist, but what society standardly considers a too big booty and hips (which of course isn’t big at all). Yet she is made to feel “obese” (not just fat, but obese which is preposterous) and her doctor encourages that even though women are made to feel bad about themselves everyday leading to awful self-destructive behaviors and . It was an example of everything you’ve been saying that hit so close to home. I then went it to Ragen-mode, as I shall call it, and told her all I have read on your blog about how the BMI scale was created and so on. While it did shed some light, of course, it didn’t really ease her anxiety, but I am hoping in time it will.

    • It can be so difficult when you’re being pressured by a doctor who is just repeating what he/she has heard without doing the research. I’m honored that you call it “Ragen-mode”🙂 I hope that your friend finds something that helps ease her anxiety.

  5. Huh…I never thought to do these kinds of comparisons before. Drawing parallels between the relative “fatness” of humans, horses, trees, and rocks does seem silly, but it’s silly to do it (with anything) in the first place! Inspired idea, and a good piece of food for thought. (See what I did there?)

    • You are very punny🙂 Glad that you like the post!

  6. I’ve lately wondered if Santa Claus and Buddha suffer from self-esteem issues given their obvious fatness and our fat-fear culture, and if they look wistfully at Jesus and wonder “How does he do it? Should I try that 40 day diet he keeps talking about?” And what about Muhammad? What kind of shape is he hiding, HUH?!? Clearly all our religious and mythical figures need to come in ONE SIZE AND SHAPE ONLY!

    Great post. I literally laughed out loud (alone, in my living room) at the image of the little Beech and Walnut trees sweating (leafing?) it out.

    • I almost spit water out of my nose reading this comment. The Santa Claus/Buddha reference is awesome. Can I steal it for a blog some time?

      I’m glad that you liked the blog – I wonder if they make sweatbands in Beech size?

  7. Ha ha ha – I need to put more pix on my blog…

    That way, speaking of equine BMI’s, I could show you big draft-type Champ (15.2 h, 1100 lbs) vs my scrawny greyhound Baraq (14.3 h but only 750 lbs). Guess which one I ride? Still shaking my head that my Arab-purist friend (“The Arabian is the only breed suited for endurance”) refused to allow the possibility that Champ actually IS the best athlete in my barn – he finished last weekend’s ride w/straight A’s, for goodness sake! Just goes to show you, can never completely escape prejudice I guess…

    • Oh wow, I’ll bet they are beautiful. I grew up on cattle ranches and we had Quarter Horses with plenty of endurance. Congrats on last weekend’s ride score and please tell Champ that I think he’s perfect just as he is🙂

  8. Too funny! While it’s perhaps not overly scientific it’s make the point that in nature we see diversity. Indeed for anyone who recognises the way natural and sexual selection works it is for the purpose of creating diversity. Diversity is natures way to give the edge in being able to pass on genetic material to the next generation. This is why within the same species but seperated by a mere few kilometers you will see differences. We are meant to be different people! What is so frustrating is that doctors have supposedly done a science degree and yet this one point seems to elude them. Cloning is how you create the same thing over and over. Oh wait they are working on that.

    • Glad that you liked it. Yeah, it was not meant to be scientific, just thought provoking. I absolutely agree with what you said about diversity. Everywhere you look we see diversity in nature, I think it’s a shame that we humans are in a phase in this culture of trying to look all the same.

  9. Excellent post!

  10. There was a tv show, about the birth of the continents on nat geo or discovery. There used to be a land dwelling South American sloth, that was 12 ft long, and weighed 2000 lbs. It’s BMI is: 67.8.


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