What Is True/Slant?
275+ knowledgeable contributors.
Reporting and insight on news of the moment.
Follow them and join the news conversation.

Sep. 21 2009 - 11:58 am | 23 views | 0 recommendations | 3 comments

Your fatness just got more complicated

selfmade picture of myself weighing somewhere ...

Image via Wikipedia

Some apparently good news out of the medical community this week – I think. We all know that BMI is bunk: it doesn’t account for lean muscle mass, gender or racial differences and bone structure, among other things. So, in a bid to satisfy our pleas for a more effective way to dislike our physical selves, experts have come up with a new, and very complicated, means of evaluating whether or not you’re actually too fat.

Researchers working with the CDC’s National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey have announced that the BMI will eventually be replaced as the go-to indicator for one’s weight-related health status. Rather than rely on that old and ineffective system, they’ll use another index, called FMI: Fat Mass Index.

Which sounds a lot like Body Mass Index. Right? Actually, this newbie on the fat-phobia scene is a ratio of fat mass to height squared, whereas the BMI is a simpler ratio of height to weight. Not only would the FMI account for the muscle mass of athletes, researchers say, it would also be divided into categories by gender and race, to account for generalized differences in fat mass according to one’s demographics.

Ah, but it doesn’t stop there. The FMI will also be split into eight categories of “fatness” within each ethnic division, and then three subcategories for fat deficit (mild, moderate, and severe) and four subcategories for obesity (excess fat, class I, II and III). In other words, there are now dozens of new ways for you to be too petite or too portly.

If you aren’t overwhelmed yet, then consider that the FMI will be used to measure the likelihood of weight-related illnesses or health complications in combination with nine other metrics whose norms have just been established based on this CDC research project. They include ratio of percent fat in trunk to percent fat in legs, total body fat percentage and appendicular lean fat mass to height squared.

And, of course, tests to determine FMI and the other nine metrics aren’t quite as easy as hopping on the scale. They require a DXA (whole-body dual x-ray absorptiometry) scan. Which, for the uninsured among us, run around $300 each.

To everyone who complained at length about the botched BMI system: thanks a lot. At least that index was so laughably bad that we could just brush off a 27.1 or a 16.4 with a flip of our obese or emaciated hands and a “whatever, the BMI sucks, pass the chips.” Now, we’ve got an entirely new, apparently accurate, very complicated and very expensive way to evaluate whether or not we each fit within a certain acceptable parameter of health.

So, are you a Class III obese with a 1:4 ratio of trunk to leg weight? A moderately fat deficient with a red alert code II appendicular lean fat mass? Or, are you going to fuck the FMI and it’s accompanying scales and metrics, get some exercise every day, eat relatively well and get on with your life? Because unless you’re interested in a new reason to hate your body and a new way to spend on health care, I’d like to suggest the latter.


3 Total Comments
Post your comment »
  1. collapse expand

    Katie, what percentage of Americans do exercise every day? And how broadly can we (or do we) define “exercise”? How about 20 minutes’ cleaning house, energetically enough to break a sweat? Or does it have to be jogging or biking or some boring stupid overcrowded gym class?

    I don’t care so much how my weight or health is defined but I find the balancing of pleasure, time, income and energy more of a challenge when trying to eat “right” and exercise every day. It looks easy, perhaps, when you’re young and have no kids and/or no injuries or conditions to manage. I would walk my four miles more often but my arthritic left hip can flare up after only a few days of that, meaning I have to find and do a wide(r) variety of things that accommodates prior injuries and two knee surgeries.

    Weight management or loss needs to be pleasant (hah) and uncomplicated and it rarely is.

  2. collapse expand

    Caitlin, from what I’ve read, the percentage of Americans who even walk half an hour a day is less than half. Much less. But, as you indicate with your references to “diverse” forms of activity, that is a tough percentage to evaluate accurately.

    I agree that I’ve got it good right now, that’s fine and dandy. And one day it might be harder for me to be this active. The big problem I have is when weight management turns into this epic, 10-metric, DEXA scan yada yada yada. I do – definitely – think that might be relevant for some people. But I think the idea of spending that kind of gov’t money (CDC) on these kinds of research projects and evaluative systems, is misguided and misdirected. I genuinely think it can be a lot simpler than that.

  3. collapse expand

    I agree that focusing on metrics and measurement seems the wrong choice…

    But how many more stories do we have to read about 1) low income leading to obesity 2) lack of fresh fruit and vegetables in American diets (is this laziness or something else?) while fridges and cupboards are full of crap 3) lack of clean, safe, accessible physical space(s) in which to play, exercise or work out 4) time starvation crowding out time to devote solely to exercise?

    It seems like everyone’s got a zillion excuses.

Log in for notification options
Comments RSS

Post Your Comment

You must be logged in to post a comment

Log in with your True/Slant account.

Previously logged in with Facebook?

Create an account to join True/Slant now.

Facebook users:
Create T/S account with Facebook

My T/S Activity Feed


    About Me

    I'm a full-time heath & science writer at Sphere and a contributing editor at True/Slant. I also contribute military health news to Danger Room at Wired.com, and have recently written for Marie Claire, World Politics Review and Next American City.

    My first foray into journalism came in middle school - at a French-speaking plaid-kilt-wearing educational institute somewhere in the Canadian tundra. It was there that I decided to start my own newspaper, to disseminate my sarcasm and attitude problem among my peers. We lasted three issues.

    From there I started to freelance, and when I became a medium-sized fish in a small Canadian lake, I decided to move to New York, and become a spore in a vast journalistic ocean. The adventure continues.

    I try to parallel my personal interests with my professional work - so most of my writing has some connection to health, science and animal rights.

    Email me Extreme story ideas at


    You can also find me:

    At Danger Room on Wired's website.

    Or on Twitter @katiedrumm.

    Otherwise, I'm either triathloning, eating, breaking my pelvis, or sleeping. Extreme, I know.

    See my profile »
    Followers: 203
    Contributor Since: May 2009
    Location:N to the YC

    What I'm Up To

    • Danger Room at Wired.com

      wired-logo-2I contribute coverage of the military medical beat at Wired.com

    • World Politics Review

      3818788252_e035c9a711I contribute military/defense coverage to World Politics Review

    • On Twitter


    • +O
    • +O
    • +O