Eating disorder groups say BMI fuels weight-prejudice and urge to focus on health and lifestyle

In an unprecedented show of concern, The Academy for Eating Disorders (AED), Binge Eating Disorder Association (BEDA), Eating Disorder Coalition (EDC), International Association for Eating Disorder Professionals (IADEP), and National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA) have joined forces and are urging focus on health and lifestyle rather than weight as a measurement of well-being.

In late November, media stories reported that an American university implemented a new strategy for combating rising weights by requiring students to be weighed during their freshman year. Those with a Body Mass Index (BMI) of 30 or over are required either to lose weight or pass an extra course focused on physical fitness. In response to this, and other similar strategies within the global "war against obesity", national and international eating disorder organizations have joined forces to urge school administrators, employers, and health policy makers to focus more on health and lifestyle for all populations rather than on weight alone.

Eating disorder groups assert that this well-intended, but under-informed and unproven strategy of focusing on BMI fuels weight-prejudice and neglects groups which may be in equal need of improving their health and lifestyle. There is concern that, in some cases, the programs contribute to negative self-esteem, body dissatisfaction and eating disordered behaviors among young people. Neither the scale nor BMI calculation provide the full picture most relevant to health status, such as lifestyle and activity patterns, and physical and mental health measures. Thus, assuming ill health based on weight alone is not only inappropriate but harmful and discriminatory, and should be discontinued.

"There is concern that we have lost sight of avoiding harm in the process of addressing obesity." AED President Susan Paxton, PhD, FAED states. "Further, we cannot ignore the opportunity to create a healthier environment, where people of all sizes are given the opportunity to lead healthy and productive lives, instead of singling out individual groups for reform based on weight alone".

Paxton continues, "it is our hope that societies throughout the world can join hands in fighting for healthier lifestyles and increased respect for people of all sizes, thus simultaneously promoting all aspects of health (i.e., physical, social, and emotional) within our communities."


Academy for Eating Disorders


  1. Joy Joy United States says:

    I think this is a great message. BMI is a poor indicator of health, and is only marginally correlated with actual quality of life.
    Unfortunately, the great irony here is that all of these groups have so far failed to address the use of BMI as a defining indicator in the diagnostic criteria for Anorexia Nervosa. Individuals whose lives may be severely impacted by a serious eating disorder, yet have a normal BMI, are forced into the 'catch-all' diagnostic category of EDNOS (Eating Disorders Not Otherwise Specified). Unfortunately, many insurance companies do not recognize EDNOS as a legitimate illness, and do not provide coverage for it. Research into the category of EDNOS is scarce, due to its heterogeniety, which results from it being a 'dumping-ground' for a multitude of forms of ED.

    We support these organizations' statements on BMI, but ask them to also consider the impact of BMI on the people with eating disorders, and the potential for harm that comes from including BMI to define course of treatment and future research.

The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of News Medical.
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