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"Big Boned" 101 - Why You Will Have Your BMI Memorized in the Next 5 Years...

Michael Moore, resident blogger at The Pennsylvania Employment Law Blog (A capitalist favorite and a top 5 HR blog in the Power Rankings) has been busy running down the 411 on Body Mass Index, also known as your BMI.  For those of you who don't know, BMI is a function of height and weight (BMI calculator).   The Center for Disease Control classifies a person who has a BMI of less than 18.5 as underweight; normal is Fatfootball 18.5-24.9; overweight is 25-29.9; obese is over 30; and extremely obese is over 40. Among the nuggets from the "other" Michael Moore:

"Other than being incorrectly labeled "overweight" or "obese", why should we care whether BMI is a accurate health status predictor? BMI is fast becoming the legal standard for determining whether someone is "obese" and therefore a "health risk". With this label comes a whole host of employment and benefit consequences:

  • Cost of and Eligibility for Certain Employee Benefits

Individual insurance policies for life, disability and medical insurance almost universally use underwriting procedures that take into account BMI as a basis for determining insurability and premium.  A survey by the Texas Office of Public Insurance Counsel found that insurance company individual health plan underwriting guidelines used BMI as a basis to deny coverage, charge a higher premium, and offer less coverage. The California Insurance Commission has made comments alerting consumers about BMI as a basis for insurance denial.

Some group health plans are community rated and not subject to medical underwriting. These plans calculate premium based on the expected claims of the community not the individual employer group.  Other group health insurance programs can be subject to medical underwriting in which BMI analysis and other factors will be used to price the coverage for the group.  An employer with  a compliment of employees with potential for high claims (including high BMI) will face higher premiums or denial. Likewise, self-insured medical plans that utilize stop loss coverage may undergo medical underwriting where BMI will be factored into the rate for reinsurance.."

If all that's too heavy for you (no pun intended), check out MM's breakdown of collective BMI across PA-area pro sports teams:

TEAM Average  BMI % Roster with BMI  >   30 
    Philadelphia Eagles    32.77    62.96%
    Pittsburgh Steelers    31.84    56.7%
    Pittsburgh Pirates    27.30    9.67%
    Philadelphia Phillies    27.16    3.1%
    Philadelphia Flyers    26.82    0%
    Pittsburgh Penguins    26.58    4.5%
    Philadelphia 76ers    24.51    0%
    Detroit Shock (WNBA)    23.26    0%
1996 U.S. Olympic Women's Gymnastics    18.79    0%

Looks like the Offensive and Defensive lineman are at risk.  Would be interesting to see what the average expected lifespan of a NFL lineman is.  I'm guessing with that type of BMI for a long period of time, it's well below average.

Like Willie once sang (or was it Don Meridith?) "Mommas, don't let your babies grow up to be Left Tackles".....


Michael Moore

I agree with your supposition that BMI will be a hot button for some time. However, this short form assessment of health may be getting too much credibility, too quickly. It has a lot of appeal because it's easy and inexpensive to calculate, is based on seemingly innocuous information (height to weight), and has bright line categories. There is also initiative appeal to the correlation between obesity and poor health, but my jury is still out on whether BMI will survive as a standard for health assessment. It will face legal challenges as a predictive measure, especially, if it becomes more prominent as a health care measure. For example, in the UK, BMI has been used to ration medical procedures like hip and knee replacements.

P.S. who gave you my high school football photo to use with this post?

Wally Bock

I agree, Kris, the move to use the BMI for all kinds of screening scares me because it essentially updates the old height/weight charts and turns the combination into a single number. It doesn't measure fitness in any way and it doesn't account for differences in body type. To add on to what Michael has already posted, I note that under BMI, the Governor of California is obese.


A higher than "normal" BMI keeps me from qualifying for medical insurance. I was forced to leave my job due to family issues and a handicapped daugter's needs and stress related depression. The depression is gone now that I am not spread so thin. I am on COBRA insurance through my former employeer and I have not found an insurance who will accept me when my COBRA runs out due to having a BMI that is "too high". I have lost a few pounds but not good doesn't matter that I am healthy and fit.

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