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Rebecca O’Neal did not believe she was qualified for a Covid-19 vaccine. She hadn’t realized that her turn had come. Last week, when she scrolled through the eligibility requirements for New York State, she noticed the body mass index on the list.

The body mass index, or BMI, is technically a measure of obesity. The quantifier was developed in the 1930s by the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company to assess risk. Since a BMI is a formula that does not take into account several important factors such as the location of body fat or whether vital organs are surrounded by fat, experts say to take the indicator with a grain of salt. . But even so, a BMI that indicates obesity has been a source of agitation for people who believe their doctors have used it to discriminate against them because of their weight.

Ms O’Neal, a 34-year-old actress and writer in Brooklyn, hasn’t been worried about this just yet. She calculated her BMI (it’s basically your weight relative to your height), found that she reached this technical obesity threshold, and made an appointment for the vaccine the same day. She received the first dose later in the afternoon.

“I had no idea my BMI was 30,” Ms. O’Neal said in a telephone interview. “I made a lot of jokes about it on Twitter, but it was a relief that I was eligible.”

Relying on a BMI to judge your risk for serious health problems is complicated. Many healthy people still fall into the “overweight” category based on their body proportions, without distinguishing between bone density, muscle mass and body fat.

This is especially the case for women, black adults, and low-income people who make up the majority of Americans who have been diagnosed with obesity by these standards. It has a lot to do with the fact that the original calculus was developed by and for white men.

For many, using their deceptively high BMI to get vaccinated is a tough decision.

As Emma Specter put it in Vogue, writing about her decision to get a vaccine based on BMI qualification: “A measure of health that has long been questioned by fat activists and experts alike. medical could actively benefit first-time fat people. “

Lots of other people are making the same decision – and posting about it online.

Some have questioned whether it is ethical to receive a vaccine based on a measure that might have little impact on their risk of serious illness.

“Caring for the sick, the elderly and healthcare workers, I understand all of that – but at one point they should have opened it up for anyone who can grab it,” Raffaele Rispo, 38, a barber from Saratoga Springs , NY who received a vaccine recently because of her BMI, said in an interview. “I understood that the older, sicker people should be the first to catch it – but when they changed it, I was happy.”

Mr Rispo has not seen his parents, who live two and a half hours away from him, nor his 15-year-old son who also lives a few hours away, in a year. He was ready to return to “some normalcy,” even though he understood that BMIs are unreliable, he said.

Although unreliable, a BMI can serve a purpose; it can be used to screen for weight classes that may cause health problems, according to the CDC, but it is not a diagnosis of the person’s body fat or health.

“BMI itself isn’t a big measure,” said Dr. Fatima Cody Stanford, an obesity medicine and nutrition expert at Harvard Medical School. “It doesn’t tell me if it’s the fat that’s causing the inflammation. It doesn’t tell me if it’s the weight of the water, it doesn’t give me those kinds of specific details.

For those who meet the BMI requirement for the vaccine, this measure presented a rare opportunity. William Antonelli said that once his sister realized she was qualified for the vaccine because of her BMI, she made an appointment for him as well. A few days later, Mr Antonelli, 24, editor-in-chief at Insider, received his first vaccine shot.

“When it comes to a disease like this, there really isn’t a bad person to vaccinate,” he says. “The problem isn’t that I’m applying for something I’m eligible for, it’s deployment. The problem is with the government system that got us to this point.



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