Episode 59

Does My BMI Matter? (with Ragen Chastain)

Size matters, right? In our formative years, we likely heard (directly and indirectly) from the media, in advertising, from teachers and leaders, from doctors, and likely our parents and our peers that the size and shape of our body matters.

It matters socially, and it matters for our health. That’s the truth, right??

So how can I know if my body is the “correct” size? The American medical industry began to use BMI, or body mass index, more consistently in the 1980s, and curiously changed the cutoffs of what was considered “normal” abruptly in 1998.  Overnight, this action changed about 25 million Americans from a category of “normal” to overweight. 

So what’s the science behind it? Where did this measurement come from? Why should we care about it?

Is it helpful to put our bodies in “categories”? Do these categorizations actually help us understand and ultimately prevent disease? Are there other ways of assessing our health that could be more reliable and beneficial?

Thankfully, meaningful research exists to provide helpful data on how to navigate these questions. AND BOY, DO WE HAVE THE EXPERT FOR IT! 

Ragen Chastain is a speaker, writer, researcher, Board Certified Patient Advocate, multi-certified health and fitness professional, and thought leader in weight science, weight stigma, and healthcare. Utilizing her background in research methods and statistics, Ragen has brought her signature mix of humor and hard facts to healthcare, corporate, conference, and college audiences.


Topics in this episode include:

Where did the BMI calculation come from?

What about kids? How are kids BMIs measured?

Why did BMI cutoffs abruptly change in 1998?

How can the BMI cutoffs create situations where people can be vulnerable to discrimination?

What is the "success rate" (according to research) for attempting intentional weight loss?

What is "weight cycling"? How is it harmful?

Other than body shape/size/fat percentage - what other measures of health have been studied that are good (maybe better) predictors of disease risk?

What is the new “clarifying” policy the AMA adopted recently to address the role of BMI in medicine?

Ragen has a Substack titled "Weight and Healthcare". Check it out!

Ragen recommends the HAES (Health At Every Size) Health Sheets for a great comprehensive, evidence-based resource.

Her Instagram handle is @ragenchastain, and her Twitter handle is @danceswithfat

Ragen also recommends the following resources:

NAAFA- The National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance (@naafaofficial on IG)

FLARE- Fat Legal Advocacy, Rights, and Education (@flareforjustice on IG)

Dove's work to end body size discrimination.

Matheson, et al research- "Healthy lifestyle habits and mortality in overweight and obese individuals."

Gaesser and Angadi's research, "Obesity treatment: Weight loss versus increasing fitness and physical activity for reducing health risks."

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(Disclaimer: we will not answer specific medical questions or offer medical advice. Consult your healthcare professional with any and all personal health questions.)


Connect with us:

@your_doctor_friends (IG)

@JeremyAllandMD (IG, FB, Twitter)

@JuliaBrueneMD (IG)

@HealthPodNet (IG)

About the Podcast

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About your hosts

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Jeremy Alland

Dr. Jeremy Alland is a sports medicine physician at Midwest Orthopaedics at RUSH, a renowned, consistently top-10 nationally-ranked orthopedic practice in Chicago, IL. In addition to a busy clinical practice, he serves as the head primary care team physician for the Chicago Bulls and Chicago Dogs, as well as a team physician for the Chicago White Sox and Chicago Fire Soccer Club. An avid athlete, Dr. Alland played collegiate baseball for DePauw University before pursuing medicine and enjoys golfing, basketball and stand-up paddleboarding. He lives in a suburb of Chicago with his wife, Katie, two children, Olive and Logan, and their goldendoodle, Archie. He never thought he would have a podcast, but has found it insanely fun and is excited to bring fun and approachability to the most common questions we hear as doctors.

"Work Hard + be kind" -The Alland Kitchen Wall
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Julie Bruene

Dr. Julie (Julia if we’re being formal, Julia Rose if she’s in trouble) Bruene is a sports medicine physician at Midwest Orthopaedics at RUSH, a renowned, nationally-ranked orthopedic practice in Chicago. She serves as a team physician for the Chicago White Sox, Chicago Bulls, and DePaul University. Aside from her obvious interests in sports and medicine, she is a true crime obsessive and is a total sucker for rescued cats. She lives in Chicago with her husband and partner-in-crime, Adam, and with several of the aforementioned rescued cats. We don’t need to get into specifics about the exact number here. She likes when people are kind to one another and when animals dress up like other animals. Rock over London, rock on Chicago.