In this month’s episode of “everything is racist,” the American Medical Association (AMA) has declared body mass index (BMI) discriminatory.
On June 14, the largest council of doctors in America passed a new policy critiquing the use of BMI as an indicator of metabolic health because the current index “does not appropriately represent racial and ethnic minorities.”
“Our AMA recognizes,” the new guidelines state, “the issues with using body mass index (BMI) as a measurement because: (a) of the eugenics behind the history of BMI, (b) of the use of BMI for racist exclusion, and (c) BMI cutoffs are based on the imagined ideal Caucasian and does not consider a person’s gender or ethnicity.”
The AMA doesn’t describe BMI’s history with eugenics, but a post by the Australian Broadcast Corporation explained the index was first created by Belgian mathematician Adolphe Quetelet who set out to find “l’homme moyen,” or the “average man.” Francis Galton, a prominent eugenicist who coined the term “eugenics” in 1883, expanded on Quetelet’s ideas of the “average man” when developing his own theories, according to an article in the Scandinavian Journal of Disability Research.
Eugenicist Origins of Abortion
If even a loose connection to eugenics, however, should warrant the abandonment of incumbent medical practices, the AMA might reconsider its own approach to abortion. Margaret Sanger, the founder of Planned Parenthood, was a champion of the eugenics movement who established the “Negro Project” to control or eliminate the black population. It was also the Nazis who engineered chemical abortion. In 2012, Protecting Black Life reported nearly 80 percent of surgical abortion clinics were within two miles of black or Hispanic neighborhoods. Black babies are “aborted at more than three times the rate of white babies.” But according to the AMA, abortion’s not racist, it’s just “health care.”
At the AMA’s 2022 Interim Meeting last November, the group condemned the Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Care Organization that overturned its 1973 ruling in Roe v. Wade.
“Since the Dobbs decision, health care in the United States has been thrown into chaos, with life-or-death decisions deferred to hospital lawyers, patients needing care driven across state lines, and uncertainty over the future of access to reproductive health care,” said AMA President Jack Resneck Jr. “The AMA is steadfastly opposed to governmental interference in the practice of medicine, especially for well-established, medically necessary treatments. Patients and physicians need assurances that they won’t be accused of crimes for medically necessary treatment.”
An Imperfect But ‘Reliable Indicator’
The BMI scale, meanwhile, is not without its limitations. The index fails to take into account individual body shape, such as how one’s skeletal structure is related to muscle mass. A linebacker for the Green Bay Packers, for example, might be labeled overweight on the BMI scale but is no doubt in better physical condition than someone who is “skinny-fat,” meaning someone who is at a healthy weight but has little muscle mass.
The index, however, still offers an important indicator of metabolic health for a large population. The AMA acknowledges “that BMI is significantly correlated with the amount of fat mass in the general public but loses predictability when applied at the individual level.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the BMI remains “a reliable indicator of body fatness for most people.” CDC data shows nearly 42 percent of U.S. adults aged 20 and older were categorically obese between 2017 and 2020, a more than 10 percent increase from 1999 and 2000. Obesity rates are highest among black Americans, nearly half of whom are considered obese on the BMI scale.
At least 67 percent of the adult population was deemed overweight or obese in 2021.
CDC data shows nearly 1 in 5 American children aged 2-19 are obese. In January, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommended children with obesity be treated with a cocktail of pharmaceutical injections and last-resort surgeries.
According to a research paper published in the journal Population Studies from the University of Colorado Boulder in February, obesity raises the risk of early mortality by as much as 90 percent.
The AMA has good reason to encourage a shift away from BMI as a comprehensive metric of individual health, but the blame on racism and eugenics is hypocritical at best. The AMA recommends physicians incorporate different indicators of metabolic health in their assessment of individual patients, including visceral fat, body adiposity, body composition, relative fat mass, and waist circumference.