As I reported last week, Italy, Spain, and Israel, have banned catwalk models who fall below a Body Mass Index of 18.5. I understand why 18.5 was chosen as a cut-off, but I don’t agree. I propose that a BMI of 20. Here’s why:

BMI of 18.5 weight corresponds to international BMI standards for a minimum healthy weight, meaning weights below BMI of 18.5 are considered medically underweight by the World Health Organization (WHO). The WHO BMIs are used on a worldwide basis to primarily assess the health of people living in developing countries particularly in Asia and Africa which account for over 75 percent of the world’s population. (Btw North Americans make up only 5 percent of the world’s population.) WHO encouraged individual countries to make alterations in BMI categories to reflect different associations between BMI and health risks for their particular populations. But in 1998, the US’s National Institutes of Health NIH adopted the international BMI categories wholesale. And because WHO uses one standard for both genders, the US also dropped having different BMI cut-offs for men and women. Until 1998, the US minimum weight was a BMI of 19 for women and a BMI of 20.7 for men.

As of 2013, BMI below 18.5 is the new diagnostic guideline for anorexia nervosa. I would hope we don’t want to require models to be at weight that is indicative of anorexia nervosa, a life threatening condition with high mortality.

Next week, I will unveil my recommendations for new BMI categories for risky low weight, low weight, minimum safe weight, safe weight, and risky high weight and show you how to figure out your BMI category.


Nutritionist Marcia Herrin and Nancy Matsumoto, co-authors of The Parent’s Guide to Eating Disorders, Gūrze Books. Marcia is also author the soon to be published Nutrition Counseling in the Treatment of Eating Disorders (September, 2012). Read more from Marcia and Nancy by clicking here.

Copyrighted by Marcia Herrin and Nancy Matsumoto

About the Authors

Marcia Herrin, Ed.D., M.P.H., R.D.

Marcia Herrin, Ed.D., M.P.H., R.D., is the founder of Dartmouth College's nationally renowned nutrition programs. Currently, Dr. Herrin conducts a private practice in Lebanon, NH.

Nancy Matsumoto

Nancy Matsumoto is a freelance journalist who has written numerous stories on health, eating disorders, and body image.

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