Alia Virjee on why BMI is not a real health metric for everyone

Alia Virjee is a Registered Dietitian and the founder of Tangible Wellness, a nutrition counseling and consulting service based in Toronto, Canada. She holds a Master of Science in Foods and Nutrition(MScFn) from Western University and is a member of the College of Dietitians of Ontario. With over 10 years of experience helping clients achieve their best health, Alia provides credible and evidence-based services tailored specifically for each individual. She believes in embracing simplicity through our diets and works collaboratively with clients to find their balance and create a tailored plan that works for them. In this video, Alia Virjee shares her insights and explains why she doesn’t consider BMI a reliable health metric.

What is BMI?

Body Mass Index (BMI) is a measure of a person’s body fat based on their weight and height. It is a simple and widely used tool to assess whether a person is underweight, normal weight, overweight, or obese. BMI is calculated by dividing a person’s weight in kilograms by the square of their height in meters. The resulting number is then interpreted using standard ranges. A BMI of less than 18.5 is considered underweight, 18.5 to 24.9 is normal weight, 25 to 29.9 is overweight, and 30 or higher is considered obese.

However, BMI has some limitations as it doesn’t distinguish between fat and muscle mass,  so a muscular person may have a higher BMI even if they have a healthy amount of body fat. Additionally, it doesn’t take into account other factors that may affect a person’s health, such as age, gender, and ethnicity. Despite these limitations, BMI remains a useful tool for quickly and easily assessing a person’s weight status and determining if they may be at risk for certain health problems associated with being overweight or obese. However, it should always be used in conjunction with other measures and clinical assessments to determine an individual’s overall health status.

How was the BMI invented?

Alia shares that the concept of Body Mass Index (BMI) was first introduced by a Belgian mathematician and statistician named Adolphe Quetelet in the early 19th century. Quetelet was interested in studying the relationship between human physical characteristics and social characteristics such as age, sex, and socioeconomic status.

Quetelet’s original formula for BMI was based on weight in kilograms divided by height in meters squared, and was intended to be used as a tool for population-level assessments rather than individual assessments. However, the concept of BMI did not gain widespread use until the mid-20th century, when it was adopted by health professionals as a tool for assessing obesity and related health risks.

The modern formula for BMI was developed in the 1970s by Ancel Keys, an American physiologist who was interested in studying the relationship between diet, lifestyle, and health. Keys adapted Quetelet’s original formula to make it more applicable for individual assessments and to account for changes in average height and weight over time. Since then, BMI has become a widely used tool for assessing weight status and predicting health risks associated with obesity. Despite some limitations, such as its inability to distinguish between fat and muscle mass, BMI remains a valuable tool for public health professionals and clinicians.

The idea of using measurements to calculate BMI dates back over 200 years, when it was used by white European men in France and Scotland, leaving out women and other races. Fast forward to the early 1900s, when U.S. insurance companies used BMI tables to define risk and charge premiums. In 1985, the National Institute of Health (NIH) redefined the definition of obesity and tied it to personal BMI, which solidified its use in public policy. Once again in 1998, the NIH lowered the threshold for BMI categories, sparking the public health panic around the obesity epidemic. This all started over 200 years ago with an idea having nothing to do with health, and has since transformed over the years.

Should people have to fit into the ideal BMI number?

According to Specialist Alia Virjee, while BMI can be a useful tool for assessing weight status and potential health risks associated with obesity, it is important to remember that it is just one piece of the puzzle when it comes to overall health.

Focusing solely on the number on the BMI scale can lead to an overly simplified understanding of health and can overlook important factors such as diet, exercise, mental health, and lifestyle habits that can have a significant impact on health outcomes. Moreover, BMI does not take into account differences in body composition, which means that it can be an inaccurate measure for individuals with higher levels of muscle mass or a large bone structure


Instead of fixating on BMI, it is important to adopt a holistic approach to health that encompasses physical, mental, and social well-being. This might involve setting goals related to improving diet and exercise habits, reducing stress, getting adequate sleep, and engaging in activities that bring joy and fulfillment. By focusing on overall health rather than a single number on the BMI scale, individuals can take control of their health and well-being in a more meaningful and sustainable way. Remember, it’s not about fitting into a specific BMI number, but about prioritizing your health and well-being.

Disclaimer: The above video and content is for educational purposes only. The expert health advice offered in this video are that of the specialists. For more details, you can contact them directly or consult your health expert.