Experts say it could be the new gold standard by 2020.

By Sara Angle
June 04, 2017

Body mass index (BMI) has been widely used to assess healthy body weights since the formula was first developed in the 19th century. But many doctors and fitness professionals will tell you it's a flawed method since it only considers height and weight, not age, gender, muscle mass, or body shape. Now, the Mayo Clinic has teamed up with technology company Select Research to release a new tool that measures body composition and weight distribution. The iPad app, BVI Pro, works by taking two pictures of you and returns a 3D body scan that gives a more realistic picture of your health.

"By measuring weight and body fat distribution with a focus on the abdomen, the area associated with the greatest risk for metabolic disease and insulin resistance, BVI offers a new potential diagnostic tool to assess a person's health risks," says Richard Barnes, CEO of Select Research and developer of the BVI Pro app. "That can also be implemented as a motivational tracking tool to see changes in weight distribution and overall body shape," he explains.

When using BVI, athletic or fit people with a higher muscle mass won't end up being classified as "obese" or "overweight" when they're clearly not, while someone who is "skinny fat" will better understand they may be at risk for health complications despite a low body weight. (Related: What People Don't Realize When They Talk About Weight and Health)

"Obesity is a complex disease not only defined by weight," explains Barnes. "Weight distribution, amount of body fat and muscle mass, and diet and exercise are all important factors to consider when thinking about your overall health," he says. The BVI Pro app can even show exactly where your visceral fat is located.

The BVI Pro app is designed for medical and fitness professionals for a subscription, so Barnes recommends asking your primary physician, fitness trainer or other medical/clinical professional you see regularly if they have the BVI Pro app yet. It's also available as a "freemium" model, so consumers can get five initial scans at no cost.

Mayo Clinic is continuing to conduct clinical trials to validate BVI, with the goal of publishing results in peer-reviewed journals, says Barnes. They hope this will allow BVI to replace BMI by 2020.