Trump’s body mass index reads ‘obese.’ But that measure has problems, experts say

Click to play video: 'Trump’s physical exam shows he’s obese, but ‘in very good health overall’'
Trump’s physical exam shows he’s obese, but ‘in very good health overall’
WATCH: Trump's physical exam finds he's obese, but 'in very good health overall' – Feb 15, 2019

According to U.S. President Donald Trump’s annual physical, the president’s Body Mass Index (BMI) of 30.4 qualifies him as obese.

His physician, Dr. Sean Conley, said in a statement that at 243 points on a six-foot-three frame, Trump “remains very healthy overall.”

Physicians have long derided the accuracy of the BMI as an indicator of health, though.

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A study completed by the University of California in Los Angeles in 2016 determined that BMIs classified 54 million Americans as unhealthy, who were, in fact, not.

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“Many people see obesity as a death sentence,” said Dr. Janet Tomiyama, a UCLA psychology professor and the study’s lead author, in a university statement.

“But the data shows there are tens of millions of people who are overweight and obese and are perfectly healthy,” she previously told Global News.

Furthermore, the study goes on to state that more than 30 per cent of Americans in the “normal” range BMI — or approximately 20.7 million people — are actually unhealthy based on their health data.

Jeffrey Hunger, a co-author of the paper and a doctoral candidate at UC Santa Barbara, said that this research confirms that BMI is a deeply flawed measure of health.

“This should be the final nail in the coffin for BMI,” he said.

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In 2018, the Conversation asked five medical and health experts whether BMI is an accurate representation of a healthy weight, and five out of five experts said no.

Dr. Alessandro Demaio stated that BMI was designed to track the weight of larger populations, though it’s not an accurate measurement of individual health.

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“Weight alone doesn’t discriminate between a kilogram of fat versus a kilogram of muscle, nor does it account for body shape and fat distribution differences relating to, say, ethnicity or gender,” Demaio told the Conversation.

Nicole Osinga, a registered dietitian based in Courtice, Ont. agreed that because of this, BMI can be useful to track large scale weight trends across populations. For example, in April 2016, one report found that the BMI of more than 19 million people in 200 countries showed that the world was getting heavier — with a forecast of 20 per cent of the population to be obese by 2025.

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Osinga says the BMI comes with many limitations, and if you are wondering if you are overweight, a body composition scale or a blood test is more helpful.

“Things like high cholesterol and high blood sugar are indicators of being overweight,” she says.

In addition to his BMI, several other indicators of Trump’s health were also measured. The president’s resting heart rate is 70 bpm and his blood pressure reading was 118 over 80, well within the normal range.

Conley said routine lab tests were performed and Trump’s liver, kidney and thyroid functions were all normal, as were his electrolytes and blood counts. An electrocardiogram, a test that measures electrical activity generated by the heart as it beats, remained unchanged from last year.

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“Despite the fact that he’s obese, his blood pressure is normal,” said Dr. Mariell Jessup, the Heart Association’s chief science and medical officer, in conversation with the Associated Press.

Using the association’s heart risk calculator, “he has a 17 per cent chance of developing cardiovascular disease in the next 10 years,” mostly because of his age and slightly elevated cholesterol, she said.

— With files from the Associated Press, Carmen Chai and Arti Patel. 

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