History of BMI (Body Mass Index)

History of BMI

Body Mass Index (BMI) is a widely used measure of body fat based on an individual’s weight and height. It is calculated by dividing a person’s weight in kilograms by the square of their height in meters. The resulting number is then used to see if a person is underweight, normal weight, overweight, or obese. The history of BMI dates back to the early 19th century and its development has been influenced by a number of factors.

The first known use of the term “body mass index” can be traced back to a paper written in 1832 by Belgian mathematician Adolphe Quetelet. Quetelet was interested in studying the relationship between a person’s height and weight, and he found that these two measurements were highly correlated. He developed what he called the “Indice de masse corporelle” (IMC), which is the French equivalent of BMI, to quantify this relationship. Quetelet used his index to study the population of Brussels and found that there was a distribution of body mass that was relatively constant across all ages and sexes.

BMI remained relatively unknown for over a century, until the 20th century when the idea of measuring body fat gained momentum. In the 1920s, American physiologist Ancel Keys published a study on the relationship between diet and heart disease in which he used BMI as a measure of body fat. He found that people with higher BMIs were at greater risk of heart disease and this was one of the first studies to establish a link between BMI and health.

BMI was then adopted by the World Health Organisation (WHO) in the 1980s as a standardised method for measuring obesity. This was a time when obesity rates were increasing globally, and the WHO saw a need for a simple and standardised method to measure body fat. The organisation established a classification system for BMI, with categories such as underweight, normal weight, overweight, and obese. This classification system is still widely used today.

However, despite its widespread use, BMI has been the subject of much controversy over the years. Critics argue that the index is not an accurate measure of body fat and can be misleading in certain individuals, such as athletes and older adults. Additionally, there is no clear consensus on what a “healthy” BMI should be, and this has led to confusion among the general population. Moreover, BMI is not taking into account body composition or distribution of the body fat which is a important aspect on the relationship with health risks.

Despite its limitations, BMI remains a widely used and easily accessible measure of body fat. It is important to note that BMI is not the only measure of body fat and should be used in conjunction with other measures such as body composition and waist circumference. However, as we continue to learn more about the relationship between body fat and health, it is likely that the use of BMI will continue to evolve.

In summary, BMI was first proposed in the 19th century by Belgian mathematician Adolphe Quetelet. It was then adopted by the World Health Organisation in the 1980s as a standardised method for measuring obesity. Even though it has some limitations it is still widely used in the medical and health industry to evaluate body fat and weight-related health risks.

Refer to our BMI calculator on How to calculate BMI to assess what your current BMI is as well as future maintenance.