Eighth-grader Tessa Embry sticks to a healthy diet and attends softball practice nearly every night. Yet according to her Body Mass Index (BMI), she’s “obese.”
Tessa was given this label after she was weighed in PE class (a traumatic experience in its own right), reports Today.com. When Tessa came home from school distraught, her mom decided to take her to see the doctor.
A medical exam and tests revealed the Indiana teen was in excellent health. “That empowered her,” Tessa’s mom, Mindi Embry, told Today.com. So a week later, when Tessa was asked to assess her BMI in a homework assignment, she put her foot down:
“Now, I’m not going to even open my laptop to calculate my BMI. And I’ll tell you why,” she began her response. “Ever since I can remember, I’ve been a ‘bigger girl’ and I’m completely fine with that. I’m strong and powerful.”
The 14-year-old penned an entire essay detailing the problem with BMI, which a family friend then posted to Facebook.
“BMI is an outdated way of defining normal weight, under weight, over weight, and obesity by taking one person’s height divided by their weight,” she wrote. “So, let’s say there is a fairly athletic woman who maintains a decent diet, she’s five feet, six inches, and she weighs 190 pounds, but 80% of her body is muscle. That doesn’t matter when calculating BMI! This woman’s BMI would be 30.7, and she would be labeled obese. Does that make sense to you? Because it sure doesn’t make sense to me.”
It doesn’t make sense to us either, Tessa. In fact, we couldn’t have said it better ourselves.
There’s actually plenty of recent research debunking BMI as a legitimate method for gauging body fat or health status. One study published earlier this year in the International Journal of Obesity found 19.8 million Americans thought to be “obese” based on their BMI are actually healthy. And on the flip side, a 2012 study found 29% of people who were classified as “normal” weight by their BMI actually had unhealthy levels of body fat.
The bottom line: BMI is no better than physical appearance when it comes to assessing a person’s health.
That’s why it’s great that body-positive role models like Tessa are calling out this flawed method. According to Today.com, the inspiring student hopes her essay will help fellow teens be more wary about how they allow others to label their bodies.
“I am just beginning to love my body, like I should, and I’m not going to let some outdated calculator and a middle school gym teacher tell me I’m obese, because I’m not,” Tessa wrote in her assignment. “My BMI is none of your concern because my body and BMI are perfect and beautiful just the way they are.”