• Wed, Nov 28 2012

BMI Calculator In Seventeen Magazine Says Underweight Is Healthy For Teenage Girls

BMI seventeen

We’ve already written about how Body Mass Index (BMI) is basically a sham (to put it nicely), but a new petition against Seventeen magazine’s online BMI calculator points out yet another way that the supposed health metric can get be so unhealthy. Not only does their BMI calculator encourage teen girls to measure health based purely on weight; it also enforces weight standards that are just flat-out unhealthy, at least if you go by BMI charts listed by the CDC.

Seventeen’s BMI calculator works like most others: enter your weight (in pounds) and height (in inches), and it calculates your Body Mass Index which comes with a handy chart outlining healthy weight ranges for age groups and genders (theirs provides info for girls aged 12 – 20+). And while many doctors, fitness professionals, and nutrition experts are becoming more and more wary of judging health on BMI, they still support that it’s a good way to gauge your health when you’re not at a doctor’s office.

Their footnote:

BMI is the best do-it-yourself way to figure out if your weight is healthy. But the most accurate tool is a growth chart analysis and a body fat test at a doctor’s office.

…why 12-year-old girls should be checking their BMI without the advice of a doctor is another issue, but the biggest problem with their calculator–which was pointed out first by a teen girl, Shirley Wang, on Tumblr, and now by the petition against their BMI calculator–is that what they say is “healthy” is classified as “underweight” by any other source.

Here’s their BMI chart, which basically says that a healthy weight starts at around 14.8 or 15.3 for teen girls, depending on their age:

BMI seventeen magazine

Here’s the BMI growth chart for young girls from the CDC (green = healthy; yellow-orange = underweight; yellow = overweight, and red = obese):

BMI growth chart teen girls CDC

Not only is the CDC’s BMI chart far more detailed (which is a good thing, since it allows for a broader understanding of how young girls gain weight as they grow), but it’s fairly clear that a BMI of 14.8 isn considered underweight for any teenage girl over the age of 12–and over the age of about 15, so is a BMI of 15.3.

Past studies have shown that dieting articles in magazines like Seventeen make teen girls more prone to disordered eating, but some have argued that the studies are inconclusive; it could be that girls are simply more vulnerable to eating disorders during their teenage years, especially because their bodies, weight and hormones are changing so rapidly during this time. But it’s hard to deny the damage caused by directly telling girls that being underweight is healthy (and being in the healthy range is classified as overweight).

Photo: GOOD tumblr

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  • Hannah

    WHOAh…. Not even close, Seventeen. They should stop printing this crap.

  • CW

    Maybe some prepubescent very young teen who is short might be able to get away with a low BMI. I put in my 10 y.o. DD’s height and weight and it came up with a calculated BMI of 15.1. She is thin but not skeletal. But she still has a little girl’s body. I would hope that by the time she’s in high school, she has a BMI more around 18-19.

    • Alexandra

      I had a bmi of 15 until I was around 16, which is when I finally started getting boobs/hips. Everyone matures differently. I wasn’t short, I was 5’7. I just didn’t have any curves.

  • Alexandra

    I’m actually happy that 17 came out with this article, even though their data is inaccurate. A lot of teenage girls who haven’t hit puberty yet feel uncomfortable with their bodies because their bmi is very low. This shows that bmi is AGE-DEPENDANT! A bmi of 15 is perfectly healthy for a 12 year old who’s a late bloomer!

    • Hannah

      I was never self-conscious about my BMI until I learned what it was at 15.

    • Alexandra

      I was.
      And yahoo answers is full of young girls (12 to 18) asking if they’re underweight and people telling them are because their bmi’s are below 18.

  • BFD

    ‘it’s a good way to gauge your health when you’re not at a doctor’s office’ – Really? Seems like it’s a good way to gauge your BMI, which doesn’t tell you anything except where you fall on a random chart.