BMI and Cholesterol: What Do The Numbers Really Mean?

In our last blog, we discussed the normal measures for blood pressure and heart rate.  This week we will address normal body mass index and cholesterol levels.

Body mass index (BMI) calculates the projected amount of fat in your body based on your height and weight.  Obesity has been associated with several different health related problems including diabetes, heart attacks, strokes, and even cancer; therefore, it is important to monitor your BMI level in order to determine where you fall on the scale.  To calculate your BMI use the following equation:

  • BMI = weight (in kg) ÷ height2 (in meters2)

If you are not familiar with converting to the metric system, the following modification can be made to the equation:

  • BMI = [weight (in pounds) ÷ height2 (in inches2)] x 703

You can also find quick and easy BMI calculators online.  BMI ranges span from underweight to obese.  The following chart provides the various BMI classifications for adults under age 65.


For children the following scale is used.


Growth charts can be found on the CDC website to see if your child falls within the appropriate percentile.

It is important to note that BMI is not 100% accurate.  It does not account for entire body make up (muscle versus fat).  Women tend to have more body fat then men even if they rate at the same BMI level, older adults tend to have more body fat than younger adults at the same BMI level, and muscular individuals may have a high BMI due to the weight of their muscles despite a low fat content.  Overall, other assessments may be necessary in order to determine risk for various diseases and cardiovascular problems.  Waist circumference measures and blood pressure are two examples of other tests that may assist in evaluating your risk for disease.

Cholesterol levels are another important measure that you can look at in order to determine your level of health.  High cholesterol can increase your risk of heart disease and possible death from a heart attack or stroke.  There are two types of cholesterol: low-density lipoprotein (LDL) and high-density lipoprotein (HDL).  LDL levels are the ones that you want to stay low.  These low-density lipoproteins are more likely to stick to the lining of your arteries and cause clogging whereas high-density lipoproteins will continue flowing within your blood stream.  In addition to cholesterol, triglyceride levels are also important.  Triglycerides are a type of fat (lipid) that is stored in your body from calories that are not used right away after eating.  Triglycerides provide energy for the body, but if you do not use these stores of fat, then you are left at a higher risk for heart disease.  All of these levels can be determined by examination of your blood.  The following chart gives classification ranges for total cholesterol levels, LDL, HDL, and triglyceride levels.

Total cholesterol

Check out our blog next week for more “know your numbers” related to the musculoskeletal system and balance. 



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