BMI chart
The traditional Body Mass Index chart used to determine whether or not a weight is healthy. National Institutes of Health

When you go to visit your doctor, whether it’s for a normal physical or a cold that just won’t quit, one of the first things done is measure your height and weight. Those stats are frequently used to check your body mass index, commonly abbreviated as BMI. Your weight and height are then compared to standards to determine if you’re underweight, normal weight, overweight or obese.

But the traditional BMI measurement doesn’t account for things like sex, weight distribution or the muscle to fat ratio. So researchers at the Mayo Clinic and the Medical Research Council in the United Kingdom began working on an alternative years ago with Select Research. Monday BVI America released the body volume indicator app to change the way a healthy weight is determined.

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The app takes three-dimensional measurements from two photos captured by your medical, clinical or fitness professional to determine the total volume versus the segmented volumes of your body. The app breaks down the body into seven segments that are analyzed so that volume can be determined for each segment of the body, the app’s site says.

The photos are taken on an app that’s downloaded onto an iPad and then BVI software analyzes them using years of research and data from MRIs, body measurements and 3D body scans. In addition to the ratio gathered from the photos, factors like age, sex and physical activity levels are used to determine BVI. The BVI strives to give a better understanding of the body, something the nearly 200-year-old BMI chart measurements cannot do.

The photos have to be taken either of patients in their underwear or in form-fitting clothes so that clothing doesn’t interfere with the outline of the body. The company’s website assures the photos are not saved anywhere after they’ve served their purpose for the calculations that take a minute or so.

The calculated BVI allows the app and your doctor or fitness professional to determine your specific health risks. It also allows them to determine how much potentially dangerous weight you carry on your body. Weight around the stomach that can surround the organs can lead to health risks like diabetes and heart disease. The BVI data is returned to the healthcare professional with graphics that are easy to use to help patients understand their indicators.

The creators of the app hope that as more professionals use it, they’ll also choose anonymously to submit patient data to help strengthen the database and add to the research that backs BVI.

The app is available in the App Store for iPad and can be used by medical, fitness, nutritional and clinical professionals.