Portrait of a female athlete
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The body mass index, or BMI, is one measurement that physicians use to determine if you are at a healthy weight. The standards for BMI take into account your height and weight relative to your gender. While your BMI may be an accurate measurement for a healthy weight, it may not be as accurate for female athletes, who may have more muscle that skews the BMI measurement. If you are a female athlete, ask your doctor to evaluate different measures to determine if you are at a healthy weight.

BMI Explained

Calculate your BMI by dividing your weight in pounds by height in inches squared, then multiplying your resulting number by 703. For example, a 5-foot, 6-inch woman who weighs 150 pounds would divide 150 by 4,356 and multiply the total by 703 to get a BMI of 24.2. Those with a BMI of 18.5 to 25 are considered to have an ideal BMI, while those with a BMI between 25 and 30 are considered overweight, according to the BBC. A BMI that falls in the overweight category can be a concern because being overweight is associated with adverse health effects, such as an increased risk for developing Type 2 diabetes and heart disease, according to eMedTV.

Concerns for Athletes

Female athletes may have a higher BMI than female nonathletes because female athletes tend to have more muscle, according to eMedTV. This is concerning because muscle weighs more than fat, which may increase a female athlete’s BMI without the female athlete actually being overweight. Even Olympic gold medal-winning athletes may have BMIs that cause them to fall in the overweight category, according to eMedTV.

Research Study

The Department of Kinesiology at Michigan State University conducted a study concerning the accuracy of BMI in predicting body fat in female athletes. The study was published in the March 2007 edition of “Medical Science Sports Exercise.” The study compared the BMIs of female athletes and nonathletes using BMI calculations and measuring body fat via a Bod Pod machine that uses air displacement to measure body fat. At the study’s conclusion, the researchers determined the BMI for female athletes was optimal at 27.7, while that of nonathletes was 24.0. This means that female athletes are likely to have a much higher BMI and be in a healthy range, compared to nonathletes.


BMI is just one of many measurements a physician can use to determine your overall body fat and health. For female athletes, your BMI is likely not an accurate measure of your health. Your physician may utilize measurements such as taking your waist circumference, waist-to-hip ratio and actual body fat measurements, using technology such as skinfold measurements and underwater weighing, according to the BBC and eMedTV. If you are a female athlete whose BMI is high, utilize one of these measurements before attempting to lose weight because you may be at a healthy weight.