Does Body Volume Indexing Have What it Takes to Kill BMI

The Mayo Clinic is getting behind a new body composition app in hopes of replacing BMI.

Body Mass Index tends to send some people into an apoplexy of rage: after all, there’s nothing like a finely honed muscular body that registers as obese to make you wonder what is going on and why you’re life insurance premiums just took a leap into the stratosphere.

Select Research, a company that makes 3D body imaging and weight distribution measurement technology, thinks that it has the answer with a new app that is starting to get hyped, the BVI Pro app.

“The idea for BVI was born out of the realization that using external measurements was just one piece of the puzzle and rather than just accepting this as the standard, we needed to measure internal factors as well,” said Richard Barnes, CEO of Select Research.

With the support and help of the Mayo Clinic, Select Research is out to promote body volume and put the focus firmly on a person’s weight distribution. They call their quasi-standard Body Volume Index (BVI) and the company’s app can be used by professionals in the medical, clinical and fitness fields, who have access to the new indicator, to make estimates of body volume, percentage of visceral fat and distribution of body fat.

The Mayo Clinic is recommending BVI because the data concentrates on things like waist-to-hip ratios, total body fat percentage, lean muscle mass, and abdominal volume. All these factors play a larger part in statistically relevant health problems tied to the impact of a person’s body composition. While BMI, which is a weight to height ratio metric, is also a statistically useful tool, it’s opponents argue that it provides misleading information on perceived threats to a person’s health based on their size.

Sure, BMI doesn’t need much more than a calculator and some rudimentary math knowledge for someone to figure it out. However, BVI Pro does the complicated math pretty safely, accurately and affordably, and it adds layers of data mining and visualization into the mix.

Let’s say a doctor wants to calculate someone’s BVI. They’ll take a side and front view of someone in their underwear. It gets uploaded to a server as a 3D silhouette, which is about as much as you can hope to determine from the two images. The 3D image is compared to data in the database that is an mine of information culled from existing MRIs, 3D body scans, and cadavers.

Essentially, you get a data driven analysis of how you shape up against other people, and what that means knowing other things about you that the doctor can easily measure and manually input in the office.

From all this information the BVI Pro app calculates body composition, weight distribution and associated health risks, while also taking into account an individual’s age, gender and level of self-reported physical activity. The practitioner gets to keep some detailed records and monitor transformations based on composition and not tick off any 225 lbs lifters who are raging against their BMI score.

So, BVI Pro’s take on body composition is great news for the BMI haters. It may be a more nuanced and, certainly, more detailed dataset for people than BMI scores. Whether it becomes a standard remains to be seen.