So, the new year has begun and everyone is trying to losing weight, but what is the best way to determine how many pounds you need to shed — BMI or body fat?

“Both body fat percentage and BMI are important to monitor. They give you a good starting point, but you don’t want to use BMI alone to make a health diagnosis or define body fat,” said Claire Edgemon, a senior registered dietitian at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston. “If BMI is used alone, it could be misleading about an individual’s health status.”

Why is BMI a less accurate measure of body fat?

It only tracks a person’s weight compared to their height, but that doesn’t include muscle, bone or fat mass. And since BMI doesn’t measure what is going on metabolically, blood pressure, blood sugar and cholesterol levels should also be measured, Edgemon noted.

In contrast to BMI, percentage of body fat determines how much of a person’s weight is fat. A quick way to measure body fat comes down to the circumference of the waist. Over 35 inches for women and over 40 inches for men points to more abdominal fat and greater health risks, Edgemon said.

“There is a healthy range for body fat percentage, but there are differences to consider, like age or gender. A healthy body fat range is 25-31% for women and 18-24% for men; this doesn’t consider age or athletic status,” she added in a Baylor news release.

So, to figure out if you are truly a healthy weight, Edgemon suggests taking both BMI and body fat percentage into account. If you find the results troubling, try focusing on diet and exercise to reach a healthy body fat percentage and/or BMI in the new year.

“The recommendation is 150 minutes of moderate activity five days per week, including muscle-strengthening activities two or more days per week to increase your heart rate,” Edgemon said. “Also, the more plant-based you go, the better. Fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean meats are really good sources of nutrition.”

More information

Visit the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for more on BMI and body fat.

SOURCE: Baylor School of Medicine, news release, Jan. 4, 2024

What This Means for You

If you are trying to lose weight and don’t know exactly how many pounds you need to shed, check both your BMI and body fat percentage to decide.