INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Tessa Embry has never thought of herself as obese. A catcher for her travel softball team, the eighth-grader is generally positive about her body image. Her mother describes her 14-year-old daughter as muscular and strong. Her doctor deems her perfectly healthy and fit.
But the body mass index, or BMI, calculation does not agree.
Recently Tessa’s gym teacher weighed the class and told the students to calculate their BMIs and see where they fell on the spectrum of underweight, normal weight, overweight or obese.
Obese, Tessa’s BMI told her. She came home that day bawling, says her mother, Mindi Embry.
After thinking it over, Tessa decided that the problem lay not with her but with the BMI itself.
So when a few weeks later Tessa’s teacher gave the class a follow-up assignment that asked the students to describe what the BMI was and to calculate their own BMI, Tessa did not hold back.
“Ever since I can remember, I’ve been a ‘bigger’ girl and I am completely fine with that,” Tessa wrote, continuing, “I am just beginning to love my body like I should and I’m not going to let some outdated calculator tell me I’m obese because I’m not.”
Tessa then goes on to tear apart the concept of the body mass index, which is based solely on height and weight and does not take into account whether the weight consists of fat or muscle.
Devised by a mathematician more than 100 years ago, the BMI was originally intended as a simple way to measure populations of people rather than individuals. But in the mid-1980s doctors started using the BMI to gauge an individual’s risk of developing diseases such as diabetes, stroke and heart disease.
More recently the calculation has come under attack by some experts who note it does not take into account different body types and argue for either a different formula or a different measure all together, such as waist circumference.
A team of UCLA scientists published a paper in the February issue of the International Journal of Obesity that found that the BMI was not a good predictor of a person’s health based on several factors, such as blood pressure, glucose, cholesterol and triglyceride levels.
According to the BMI, Michael Jordan would be considered overweight during the peak of his basketball career.
A 14-year-old girl who carries 175 pounds or more on a 5-foot-7 frame, such as Tessa’s, falls into the obese range, regardless of how muscular her frame may be.
Earlier this year, Tessa writes, she started having doubts about her body — not unheard of for a teenager. She recounts wrapping Ace bandages around her stomach to make her look slimmer.
Her mother took her to the doctor, who ran some tests and talked about her activity level and diet. While he conceded she was a “bit overweight,” he said he had no worries about her health.
When Tessa heard about the assignment, she went to her mother, told her what she planned to do, and asked her whether she would be OK with her getting an F on it. That’s fine, Mindi said.
Then she saw what her daughter had written.
With Tessa’s permission, Mindi posted the essay on her Facebook page. Other friends shared it, and Tessa’s tale was shared more than 200 hundred times as of Thursday.
The Embrys, who live in Evansville, have had messages of support from people around the world. Mindi said that they are not naming the school Tessa attends because many schools around the country use the BMI as a measure of student health.
In her essay, Tessa has a message for all educators who would ask students to calculate their BMIs: “(I)t’s a measurement that SHOULD NOT be in a school setting where students are already self-conscious and lacking confidence in their unique bodies.”
Information from: The Indianapolis Star
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