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BMI, or body mass index, is an indirect measure of body fat in a person. Because the calculation only requires two pieces of information -- height and weight -- it is an inexpensive and easy method used to screen for weight categories that may lead to health problems such as diabetes, stroke, and heart disease. Calculating BMI can help determine if a person is overweight or obese; these calculations are often used in conjunction with other measurements (such as waist circumference) to assess a person's weight.

What Is BMI?

Over 100 million adult Americans are overweight or obese. Being overweight or obese increases a person's chances for developing serious health problems, especially heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and cancer. How does someone know if they are overweight or obese? Research on obesity has shown that a measurement called body mass index (or BMI for short) can be used to assess a person's level of body fat.
BMI does not measure body fat directly, but it does correspond fairly closely to direct measures of body fat in most people. Therefore, it can be considered an alternative for direct measures of body fat.
The number is determined using a person's height and weight. Because the calculation requires only height and weight, it is an inexpensive and easy-to-use method of screening for weight categories that may lead to health problems (see Health Effects of Obesity).

How Is BMI Calculated?

There are a few ways to determine your body mass index:
  • Calculate BMI using the BMI formula
  • Use the BMI chart
  • Use the BMI calculator.
Any of these three methods will get the same BMI result. Everyone can use one of these three methods regardless of age, gender, race, or ethnicity. There is no specific BMI chart for women or men.
Written by/reviewed by:
Last reviewed by: Arthur Schoenstadt, MD
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