Crossfit coach Isabelle Allen says the BMI doesn’t reflect a person’s true fitness. Picture: John Gass/AAP
Crossfit coach Isabelle Allen says the BMI doesn’t reflect a person’s true fitness. Picture: John Gass/AAP

Flawed fitness measure hits hip pocket

PEOPLE who are fit but score highly on the body mass index are having to pay higher premiums for life insurance, the same as heavy smokers or those with a drinking habit.

Increasing numbers of companies offer discounts to those who have a BMI under 28, thereby excluding many of the country's weekend fitness enthusiasts and elite athletes.

But Queensland health experts say BMI alone is not an accurate indication of good health.

While obesity is considered a risk of mortality for insurers, the BMI system automatically assumes a healthy weight is related to height.

But many short people have large muscle mass, pushing the index into red zones.

BMI is calculated by squaring a person's height in metres, then dividing by their weight in kilograms.

The Heart Foundation calculator rates anyone with a BMI over 30 as obese.

Australian Medical Association president Dilip Dhupelia said the AMA understood firms were trying to offer incentives for people.

"Muscle weighs heavier than fat, and the BMI does not measure body fat and is not a useful tool for athletes. Ethnicity can have a big impact on BMI too," Dr Dhupelia said.

 

Crossfit coach Isabelle Allen says the BMI doesn’t reflect a person’s true fitness. Picture: John Gass/AAP
Crossfit coach Isabelle Allen says the BMI doesn’t reflect a person’s true fitness. Picture: John Gass/AAP

 

"I think anyone who is very fit but doesn't qualify for a discount should argue their case to these insurance companies."

Dr Dhupelia said BMI was useful to track obesity levels.

AMP, Asteron, TAL and Neos are just some of those offering discounts of up to 10 per cent on policies based on BMI.

Diabetes Queensland president Craig Beyers said insurers would lose business if they discriminated on the basis of weight, as nearly two-thirds of Queenslanders were overweight or obese.

"BMI is best used in conjunction with other measures such as blood pressure, cholesterol and HbA1c (a blood glucose average over three months) tests to get a true understanding of a person's health," he said.

"Checking waist measurement is also important."

Heart Foundation care and support director Rachelle Foreman said BMI did not take into account age, ethnicity, gender and body composition.

Crossfit coach Isabelle Allen said most people in her classes would be in the overweight or obese BMI range, despite being fit and healthy.

"They are very strong and fit people that we would say are a healthy weight so it is simply wrong to use BMI against people when it comes to insurance premiums," she said.

 



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