Doctor Robert Wright, a professor at BYU-Idaho and director of the health psychology emphasis, conducted a study on campus about the ideal BMI or body mass index among students.
The idea was born a long time ago during a brainstorm sessions with some research students. They began to wonder if people tend to underestimate their weight and overestimate their height.
“What we were wondering is if people are more neurotic, that is if they’re more emotionally instable,” Wright explained, “or if they appreciate their body more, body image, or if they don’t follow a lot of health behaviors such as eating fruits and vegetables or eating lots of sugary snacks, if that might influence how far off they were with their own assessment of their height and their weight and if that would also influence where they wanted to be, what we call their ideal height and weight.”
They did the study through a survey of students in the Psychology 111 class. The questions in the survey were about how much they thought they weighed and how tall they thought they were. They also asked about where they wanted to be in both of those categories. The other questions had to deal with lifestyle choices and health practices.
After the survey was completed the students went in and had their actual BMI determined.
“What we found is that on average women want to lose 16 and half pounds,” Wright said. “When we saw this we were appalled, especially myself. Men wanted to gain about 2 and half inches in height,” Wright said.
Gaining height and losing weight both decrease the BMI. According to the study, both genders want to lower their BMI but in different ways.
Why is this? Wright suggested that it has to do with our social perception of what is desirable.
The other findings in study reflect that women who have a good personal body image didn’t want to alter their BMI. Men seem to think that they will feel better about their body image if they can lower their BMI.
With the health behaviors there was a correlation between unhealthy eating and incorrect self-perception. People who ate poorly, meaning fast food and lots of sugary snacks and drinks, in general had a higher tendency to underestimate their weight and overestimate their height.
Those students who were emotionally unstable wanted to lower their BMI. They were more dissatisfied with their bodies, especially women.
Now, some people don’t like looking at the BMI because it is said it can mislead people.
“In looking at actual body fat it is not the best way, because BMI does not take into account body composition,” Wright said.
There are others things that contribute such as muscle, water, bone, and good fat versus bad fat.
Looking at the BMI does have a purpose though. Health professionals have found that it is a good indicator of mortality likelihood.
For students who want to find out their body composition as well as their BMI, the Wellness Center at BYU-Idaho, located in the Hart Building, can help you. The body assessment costs around $1.
“BMI, it’s easy to calculate, it does predict death, but it does have some limitations,” Wright suggested. “So what I would suggest is that BMI should be considered an indicator of health not the indicator of health.”
BMI’s across the board show that we as a society are getting bigger. Diabetes, metabolic syndromes and even cancers related to unhealthy BMI’s are on the rise.
“This study, I would hope, helps people see that our social norms, that is what we perceive to be the norm, what we perceive to be beautiful even, does affect the obesity epidemic,” Wright said. “It does affect our desire to go on diets, to restrict our food intake, to exercise excessively perhaps. The worst part about this is when they fail.”
The main concern is that when people set goals for a better BMI or to reach their ideal BMI they usually fail at first. The problem isn’t when they fail, it’s the fact that they then give up completely on being healthier.
Wright suggests that the media influences us when we set our ideal BMI. Models, sports athletes and even friends on social media alter our view of ourselves.
“We’re so focused on what we’re not and what we want to be that we forget about who we are,” Wright said.
He talked about how we are all God’s children and so we are all beautiful, and that believing that isn’t a solution to the issue with our social perceptions, but it’s a good place to start.
His parting advice is for everyone to take small steps in the right direction and not to get discouraged when you don’t progress as quickly as you would’ve hoped.
“Get out and be active! Enjoy this time in your life when your body is working well,” Wright said. “When you start feeling better about yourself you treat it better. And it’s this nice positive upward spiral.”