Body image is an issue that affects a lot of people.
There are countless apps that are centred around helping people achieve their goal body – and the majority use a Body Mass Index (BMI) calculator to do so. From wearable devices, to apps, to globally recognised health organisations, there are a considerable number of companies basing the “success” of an individual’s weight on a metric that was designed almost 200 years ago.
Why BMI Is An Outdated Metric
LaurieAnn Scher, Chief Clinical Strategy Officer at Fitscript (a health company that developed the app GlucoseZone to help people with diabetes management), thinks that using BMI as a metric to measure someone’s overall health is outdated. On balance, Scher believes it stops giving patients an accurate picture of their own health, and:
“doesn’t always reflect the population that you’re looking at.”
As well as this, there are several other reasons why BMI isn’t an accurate representation of a person’s health:
- As Scher points out: “a woman with large breasts or big hips would appear to have a higher BMI when in fact they might be healthy.”
- Muscle weighs more than fat – professional athletes, and people who are more muscular may be deemed overweight according to their BMI.
- It also doesn’t account for bone density – someone with heavier bones will score higher, even if they’re a lower weight.
- It generalises across racial and ethnic groups – a 2009 study found that white people had more body fat than Black people, even when they had the same BMI and waist measurements.
- Likewise – East and South Asian populations are more likely to experience weight-related negative conditions at a lower overall body weight than white populations.
BMI & Eating Disorders
Due to BMI’s failure to “promote healthy behaviours”, UK MPs are now campaigning for it to be scrapped entirely. Caroline Nokes, Conservative MP and Chair of the Women and Equalities Committee, has said that the use of BMI as a measure of healthy weight has become a “justification for weight shaming”. An investigation by the Guardian found that people were being denied medical help because their weight was too high.
Tony Quinn, a Director at eating disorder charity Beat, agrees:
“BMI should never be used as the sole factor in diagnosing eating disorders, or for determining who is ‘unwell enough’ to access treatment. This can lead to potentially dangerous delays and can drive people deeper into eating disorders in order to be taken seriously.”
The annual spending on research into eating disorders is currently at 96p per person that experiences them; making the annual cost of dealing with eating disorders £15 billion. The committee’s report determines that the funding for research into eating disorders should match the £9-per-person funding the mental health sector is seeing.
HealthTechs That Don’t Use BMI Metrics
Fitscript focuses on helping people living with diabetes meet their exercise requirements. Created to help people living with diabetes get the safe and effective exercise they need, wherever they’re located, they offered their services for free during the pandemic. Their app, Glucose Zone, uses biometric data captured from wearable devices, such as glucose meters, insulin pumps and heartrate monitors, to offer guidance, support and coaching. They too have a focus on weight loss, but their focus is on encouraging exercise rather than dieting.
Calibrate is the only company on the market offering a weight loss and metabolic health treatment that combines medical help from a doctor with a complete lifestyle change.
They are inherently tied to the medical world and their treatment includes biweekly 1:1 coaching to ensure a metabolic reset. Speaking about what inspired the creation of Calibrate, Founder and CEO Isabelle Kenyon said:
“My mom called me to ask if I could find her a doctor who could help get her metabolic health under control. After a lot of searching, we found one and I had this total lightbulb moment.
Who knew there were doctors who had specific training in helping you lose weight? […] Why don’t consumers know that improving metabolic health sets you up for long-term, sustained weight loss?”
Lifesum is a digital self-care app that helps customers reach health and weight goals through better eating. While BMI does feature on Lifesum’s app, they acknowledge that ‘BMI alone is misleading’, and it isn’t necessarily healthy:
“Depending on your muscle mass, age, or genes, the BMI scale may not be the best tool for you.”
Instead, they encourage you to keep track of your weight, waist, chest, arms, and body fat, “so that you can see your individual progress towards a healthy weight.”
The Importance Of Gathering Updated And Relevant Health Data
All of the above companies utilise data to understand the individual and to personalise a weight-loss metric to suit them – and these data sets will only be growing; meaning the more people that utilise these services, the stronger this data will become.
Where BMI has long-since been an outdated metric of pushing everyone into the one-size-fits-all box, metabolic HealthTechs are able to offer an individualised picture of their customers health. This allows them to quantify weight-loss in a method that makes sense – one suited to the customer’s body type and their personal needs, rather than an 1830s depiction of what their body should look like.
The last year and a half has witnessed a massive increase in the healthtech market, and the level of data surrounding weight loss and obesity is only growing: for HealthTechs working in this space, the time to update your health metrics is now.
This article was written by Fern O’Shaughnessy who is one of Storm3’s expert Data & Analytics consultants. If you’d like to discuss your recruitment needs, please get in touch, or read more about our Data function here.