Why Does Seventeen Magazine Have a BMI Calculator? And Why Does It Say that Being Underweight Is Healthy?

Illustration for article titled Why Does Seventeen Magazine Have a BMI Calculator? And Why Does It Say that Being Underweight Is Healthy?

It's pretty obvious that magazines for teenage girls are just grooming schools adult lady-mags—funneling impressionable teens neatly into the image-obsessed arms of Elle and Cosmo. I mean, okay, whatever. As much as it bugs me that women's "entertainment," from childhood, is institutionally wedded to this weird conventional-standards-of-beauty-conformity-and-insecurity-jamboree, I can live with it. Women are interested in these things. I'm interested in [some of] these things. Fine.


But why on earth does Seventeen have a BMI calculator on their website? And why is it telling teenage girls that clinically underweight BMIs are "healthy" BMIs?

Via Proud2BMe:

Shirley Wang, 17, is recovering from anorexia. When she came across Seventeen's online BMI calculator this week, she was shocked at the results. We were too....As Shirley discovered, her results page showed the above chart claiming 14.8 to be in the healthy BMI range for an 18-year-old (she's closer to 18 than 17). As she puts it quite succinctly on her blog: "Does that sound f*#ed up to anyone else, or is it just me?"

Although we don't believe in using BMI, since this is already out there, let's compare Seventeen's calculator to the Center for Disease Control's BMI calculator for kids and teens. Inputting a weight and height ratio for an 18-year-old that equaled a 14.8 BMI turned up these results:

"Based on the height and weight entered, the BMI is 14.8 , placing the BMI-for-age below the 1st percentile for girls aged 18 years 0 months. This teen is underweight and should be seen by a healthcare provider for further assessment to determine possible causes of underweight."

If Cosmo wants to provide its adult readers with a BMI calculator to make personal determinations about their own weights, fine. But Seventeen delving into that territory seems like crossing a line. Can't we leave the delicate assessment of teenagers' bodies in the hands of, you know, doctors? Why does Seventeen feel the need to go into the medical diagnosis biz—particularly in such a controversial, triggering, and loaded area as BMI?

And beyond that, if they're going to tweak government BMI guidelines, why take it in a potentially damaging direction?

Lauren Stalnaker, 21, saw Shirley's Tumblr post and took her anger one step further, creating an online petition to Seventeen, which now has over 2,700 supporters. She writes:

"While I understand it is not your goal to promote eating disorders, this portion of your website certainly does just that. By leading a 17-year-old to believe that a BMI of 15 is healthy, you are telling them that being ‘very severely underweight' by normal standards is acceptable. Your 17 Body Peace pledge was something that inspired me as a reader when I first heard of it. I signed, and vowed to work to love my body again. This BMI calculator is sending the opposite message to your readers. Please do something to fix this."

Proud2BMe's attempts to contact Seventeen have not yet been returned.

Body Peace or Body Wars: Seventeen's BMI Calculator Says Underweight is "Healthy" [Proud2BMe]



BMI is NOT bullshit, it is a tool to be used by clinicians; along with other anthropomorphic measurements and formulas it can help a doctor or dietitian determine if you are at risk for over/underweight. It should not be used exclusively by athletes or other people with high muscle mass, and it should not be used to determine ones self worth. That being said, a lot of people who are overweight (which I am) use the muscle mass card as a way to say it is inaccurate, which is bull shit. If you're fat, you're fat. You can be a happy, healthy, self confident fat. But you're over weight. If you really believe that your BMI is "lying" about you as to have other measurements done, such as skinfold measurements, hydrostatic weighing, or bioelectric impedance. In this case of teen magazines I think it is good thing if explained properly, given accurately and tells them to follow up with their doctor. Teens are too volatile to be given a tool like this and say "Oh, this chart here says your fat." Sorry for the rant. I have a BS in nutrition and dietetics, which is hard when you are overweight, but this is life.