Big Boned?

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There’s no such thing as big boned

I was recently talking to a group of people, giving them my usual weight loss rants, when I was hit with a question I hear way too often.  I was going through my usual discussion of the body mass index (If you don’t know enough about the BMI, click here) when a well meaning but not well informed audience member asked the following question:

Her:  Does the BMI account for your bones?

Me:  What do you mean, exactly?

Her:  I mean, does it account for the fact that some people are big boned and others aren’t?

Me:  I have held a human skeleton in  my hands.  I had a box of bones I had to carry around my first semester of med school.  Bones aren’t that heavy.

She looked a bit aghast.  As if I had just destroyed her explanation for why she was overweight.  If it’s not the bones, what could it be!?!  I told her it was probably her lifestyle.  She seemed disappointed.

English: diagram of a human female skeleton, b...
English: diagram of a human female skeleton, back view. the Red lines point individual bones and the names are writen in singular, the blue lines conect to group of bones and are in plural form. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The moral of the story is that the idea that differences in bone size or composition can account for variances in weight between people is nonsense.  It is true that people can have different body types and carry weight differently based on a host of genetic factors, but the bones don’t have a lot to do with that.Now that I have relieved you of this myth, you are one step closer to attacking the real challenges in weight loss – your diet and your exercise.  This blog and the book that inspire dis designed as a source of the information you need to be successful in creating a healthy lifestyle.  The biggest obstacle to success in this arena is ignorance (as evidenced by the big boned myth).

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19 thoughts on “Big Boned?

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  1. Rubbish! Absolutely wrong. Big bones are indeed a real thing.

    I, for example, have an *exceptionally* large frame for a woman (8″ wrist; 13″ ankle; 4″ elbow; 15″ neck; 22″ head; big hands and feet; 20.5″ shoulders; with hips and rib-cage significantly wider than average, but a relatively little waist; and an equally large muscle-mass naturally [the kind most men would envy, oh joy!]) … but as Frank rightly said, those of us who really do have big bones are also pretty rare. But it’s not 15% of people, but less than 5%, who truly have large bones (and it’s slightly more rare in women); and less than 2% of women who naturally have a ‘man-sized’ muscle mass (without being a body-builder or high-performance athlete), but I’m one of them.

    When I had a scan many moons ago to find out how I could be the weight I was, but only 17% body-fat at the same time, the radiologist exclaimed, and I quote, “Holy shit you have big bones!” Yep, I do! And it should come as no surprise that my organs (my heart is apparently like Phar Lapp according to another doctor!) and muscles are all equally huge.

    However, while unusually big bones, muscles and organs do exist and they do indeed make one weigh a lot more than ‘average’ on the scale (and in my case it’s not a little, ‘Dr’ Grove, it’s a lot more ~ 60 lbs more!), the article is correct on one thing ~ they are absolutely NOT the reason anyone is obese.

  2. I’m sorry but you seem to have missed the point, for eg. I am a large framed person this means there is additional tissue weight and organ size inside my bones, that should be easily understood. Height is not relative to a large framed person, that is in your genes. for eg I have very large circumference of “bone” measurement around my wrists, my hips, my rib cage, my feet, my ankles, my knees, my hands, my shoulders, my neck, I also have a large skull so in between these areas there is flesh/brains/organs in there it is not hollow and it is not fat (who has fat inside their head?), my bones protect flesh, a fraction may be fat, the rest is essential tissue and organs. People like myself are not born fat although yes we can become fat like any other, I do not agree with this unbalanced BMI rating that doesn’t even take into account breast tissue and I have large breasts also, this is determined by our genes. I had DD breasts at 18. The same as a woman who has a very small rib cage and hips, wrists etc. Genes.. I am of big build it is as simple as that. Even if all my fat was removed such as when I was 18 and extremely athletic and fit I would still have been classed as OBESE, this is a silly medical notion which professionals should be able to dispel these myths. If you disagree then why are some people born short and others born tall. Small, medium and large frame build is all in your genes. No one can change their frame unless with operations, my how I would love to have small feet, perhaps if I diet my feet might shrink! silly isn’t it! It’s the genes, just like a there are short petite thai’s and large stocky russians just for eg.

    1. There are differences between people in terms of their bone and organ size but this difference is not a major contributor to people’s excess weight.

      People’s weight has been skyrocketing over the past 4 decades. In that time there has not been any changes in people’s body type, body frame, genetics, or bone density.


  3. Less than 15% of the population actually have what is clinically defined as a “large frame.” In contrast, less than 15% of the population actually have a clinically defined “small frame” as well. That being said, MORE than 70% of the population (the majority of all people) have a “normal” or “medium frame.” And although people CAN have higher density bones, (usually due to load bearing activities) that condition will normally only add approximately 1-2 pounds to their total skeletal mass. People can also have less density in their bones. Certain diseases including osteoporosis can cause this effect. Thereby reducing their total bone mass by 1-2 pounds as well. What this all means then is, a healthy woman 5’7″ tall, with her normal, “medium frame” and normal bone density should have an ideal weight of 140 pounds. If you have a healthy woman 5’7″ tall with a “large frame” and a dense bone structure, you would only add a little less than 10% of the “medium frame” ideal weight of 140 pounds, (140 x 10% = 14 pounds) to arrive at her ideal weight of 154 pounds (140 + 14 = 154). Similarly, the “small frame” woman with light bone density, would subtract her 10% to arrive at a ideal weight of 124 pounds. Unfortunately, far too many “medium frame” people, with normal bone density parameters, have incorrectly labeled themselves as “BIG BONED” or “LARGE FRAMED,” and assumed because of that misunderstanding, that being 10, 20 or even 50 pounds above their ideal weight is still acceptable as healthy. You can straighten out any confusion and end all debate about your weight and your health risks simply by taking a tape and measuring around your waist at the thinnest point. ALL PEOPLE, of any height, should have a waist measurement of LESS than half your height. Medical professionals have proposed that this might be the single most important number to assess your health risks for many of the leading causes of deaths in the world annually. If your waist is more than 1/2 of your height, you would be well advised to seek professional help regarding your best methods to reduce your probability of increased health risks and developing certain diseases and disorders.

    1. Frank, who arrived at this magic figure of 10% adjustment and where is the evidence to support this and the tape measure ratio around your waist? Someone just approximated this let’s be honest, this waist measurement is also nonsense, my ribs and hip bone are less than 1 cm apart where as another female will have a gap of up to 10 cm apart hence a narrowness can be created there, but not in me. Many models have operations to remove a rib to create narrowness, ie. a smaller waist. This is again in your genes whether you have a short torso or a long torso, all comes down to your Mother and Father. Just like dogs, cats, horses etc we are all mixed bred. It’s a lottery.

  4. My Dad was never fat but at 5’10” he was usually estimated to weigh about 165#’s. In fact he weighed 205#’s. The hospital and doctors always insisted he get weighed because they did not believe he weighed 205#’s when he wrote it down or said said 205#’s when they asked. He did, indeed, have heavy bones. While in the Air force they told him every human could float and forced him to try. 2x’s after they retrieved him from the bottom of the pool they decided there as something unusual going on so they weighed him in some water displacement situation. They announced, after measuring wrists ankles and etc that he had very strong very heavy dense bones and very little body fat. He was not heavy – was perfectly proportioned and very agile and lithe. I, too, weigh more than I appear to. I, too, have had many doctors measure my wrists to see if I was big boned. At 60 I had bone scans and was announced to have very strong dense bones, I am female.

  5. I’ve lost 40-60 lbs of weight (depending the date and time of day I’m comparing to) and I’m now 5’3″, size 8 pants, medium top and weigh 151 lbs. I have large wrists (6.75″), big fingers and hands (have to wear men’s rings and gloves) and wide feet (WW) and large breasts (F). Nobody would guess that I’m 151 lbs. My face is slim, you can see my collar bones and my ribs and pelvic bones are right under my skin (no fat covering). I have naturally muscular thighs and calves (calves have shrunk to 16.5″ diameter) but I don’t exercise much, just walking. So how much are my “big bones” contributing to my weight? I’m still classified as “overweight” by BMI standards but everyone including my doctor, says I look like normal weight. My doctor got a puzzled look on his face when he saw my weight. Should I keep losing weight to get to about 130 lbs, or even lower to BMI standards (like 102-115 lbs) or should I stop now and maintain my weight loss?

  6. Hello
    I heard that BMI formula is incorrect when used for individuals who are taller than 170 centimeters.
    I read that the BMI of a person taller than 170 cm should be one number lower than the number initially given is this true?
    I am 180 cm (5’11) and 52 kg, (116 pounds.) 13 years. BMI 16.2.

    ALSO: according to my BMI I am underweight, Should I be worried or is it because I am growing?

    1. The BMI formulations I quote comes from research of adults so I can’t comment on yours. I would recommend asking your pediatrician. He or she probably would have research specifically for your age.


  7. My name is Milly. I’m a 14 year old girl, I weight 76kg and my height is 176 in cm. I haven’t always been a big girl throughout my younger life, although I was abit chubby when I was about 5 years old. I’ve put on some weight and I just feel so disgusting and I am starting a diet tomorrow. My Mum and sister said there is no point on trying to lose weight because I am “big boned”. They say I’m still going to stay the same weight no matter what I do to try and lose it, but I don’t believe them. You see I have a fat face, fat stomach, fat arms, fat thighs and fat legs. I never used to be so big at all and I think i’ve gone bigger now because I am a grown teenager who now likes to eat alot. I’m willing to lose 20kg in 3 months but I suppose I can’t start until I actually know whether big boned is real. Please help me. It would be great to get a reply back from you.

    1. Hi Milly!

      I noticed the doc hadn’t replied. 176cm for a 14 year old is pretty tall. Are your Mom and Father also larger framed people? If so, you have these genes too. But, that’s not everything. Exercise and eating right are important for weight issues, and for generally living a healthy/long life. Life is long, and you’re still growing so it is important to get enough nutrients. That said, don’t fret too much. You’re 14. If you want a slice of pumpkin pie, or two, have it! Sub-sandwich…have it! These are things adults can’t allow themselves, but you can. That said, everything in life is about balance. You are young, so your life has more flexibility, you can choose to eat pumpkin pie, AND choose to life an active life. The two are not mutually exclusive. Fitness is a big thing these days, and it’s all the rage for college kids to be carrying their waterbottles and protein shakers everywhere, so fitness culture will impact you if you let it! In the meantime, enjoy being 14. For real. It goes faster than you’d care to believe, and even the OK times you have will seem great looking back on it through weary disillusioned 45 year old eyes. So have fun! Eat that pie! Then go ride your bike! I’m certain you’re a smart, witty, and warm individual. These qualities will serve you well.

      So will an active life and eating right! Exercise everyday at least 15 mins (Ideally more)! Even if that just means running a little to school or chasing some kid down in PE!

    2. Omar again!

      Just adding that getting the waterbottles and yoga mats and sweet sneakers and everything else is a part of it, but a SMALL part of it. A part of the material culture, no doubt. But more important is making eating right and exercise a HABIT! I cannot stress this enough. If you work out 3 or 4 days a week for 3+ weeks, it will become a habit and you won’t dread going into the gym. In fact, you’ll relish it! You’ll develop your own favorite exercises, find the things your best at, and by 3+ weeks it’ll just be automatic and fun. Trust me. The times when I have been in good shape have been because I made it a habit. Make it part of your daily/semi-daily routine. You’ll pack an extra bag of athletic gear along with your backpack, carry a water bottle (hydration is key), eat things like quinoa and kale and egg whites or lean chicken coconut milk and veggies stirfry, and it’ll be great! There’s no better feeling than just the inner strength and flexibility and warm relaxation of exercised muscles. It’ll be the best drug you ever try, and by far the best for you. Fitness! (Working out in groups is also big these days, Crossfit and things like this).

  8. Why are we comparing a overweight woman with an older man? Isn’t this like comparing apples to oranges? I get what you are trying to show, but this is a ridiculous way to do it. And since I am wearing a size 12 at 128 pounds (5 feet 5 Inches) means that my actual bone frame is wider, not that I am fat. Many woman would be a size 8 at 128 pounds. This comparison is not only unfair, it’s a pathetic excuse for “scientific proof.”

    1. Regardless of your ‘frame’, it is indisputable that the differential contribution to bone weight to total weight in humans is negligible. It may alter your body structure somewhat but not your weight which was the intention of the post.

  9. Out of my six children only one is oveihergwt. She was my premature baby. She exercises every day, helping my oldest two that are still at home walk the dogs twice a day. Thats an hour of walking for her everyday, rain or shine. She eats the same things the other kids eat, drinks the same things they drink. But, like my sister, my father’s sister, and our paternal grandmother, shes just a big girl. I won’t say its baby fat. She is oveihergwt. But, no one can find any reason why. Everyone tells me I am feeding her too much. Shes 11 now. I have been careful not to put her on a diet or treat her much different than her syblings because I don’t want her developing an eating disorder out of this. Getting the Wii helped to stabilize her weight gaining. Now I am hoping the Xbox 360 with Kenctix will help it start to come down. We live in the country, on a homestead. We don’t eat out often, most of her food, is either grown by me in the garden are bought from local farmers. I make all of our bread being sure to use Olive oil instead of shortening or regular oil. It’s all whole grain, I make Whole Wheat Oatmeal Honey bread almost every single day. I can count the number of times that child has had fast food in the last year on one hand. Even her pizza, when she gets it is homemade by me from whole wheat flour with fat free cheese. But, shes still heavy and they still don’t know why. So please stop writing articles that suggest that every case is caused by parents not feeding their children properly. The only thing I haven’t started doing is raising our own cattle. Most of our meat consumption comes in the form of Chicken and Turkey. It is rare for beef to be found in my house. We buy roasts when they are on sale and grind our own ground beef. My husband a former, meat market manger, trims off all the fat. Yet he and my daughter are both still over weight. There is something else that sends your metabolism into the tank besides junk food and to many calories. To few will do it as well. If your burning more than you take in for a long period of time, your body will shut itself down. That is why my husband is oveihergwt. I am only recently exploring that possiblity for my baby girl. Everyone just assumes that kids that are oveihergwt don’t eat healthy or don’t exercise and that mom and dad aren’t doing anything about it. Many of us are doing everything we know how to do and then some. Sometimes, people are just going to be bigger. Nothing wrong with that. Making it sound like there is though, is just wrong.

    1. I definitely sympathize with your frustrations related to keeping y. I also think it’s great that you have begun to make healthy food choices. With that said, it is very possible and even easy for someone to gain a significant amount of weight eating “healthy” foods – if they were to eat too much of them.
      To really diagnose the problem, I would recommend that you buy a small kitchen scale for about 10 bucks and sign on to an internet calorie counter (I recommend Use these tools to very carefully and strictly count the number of calories you daughter and husband are taking in and compare them to the number they actually need to take in to lose weight (the websites will tell you how many calories each need in a day). You may find that they are taking in a significant number of extra calories in spite of all of your ‘healthy’ choices.
      I definitely think its great that you are getting your family to be more active. You might want to try more intense exercise, or HIIT exercise (see my prior post on HIIT). You might like workout videos by Jillian Michaels or other TV trainers.
      I know it seems frustrating, but I promise if you stick with it you will make a serious impact on your daughter and husband’s future. Just don’t give up. You’re doing a great job!!

      I really appreciate your comment and please continue to tell me how these changes impact your progress.

    2. Sooooo not true. Proper diet is more important when you are you. Otherwise you will end up with hard fat that is far more difficult to lose. Get in shape now. Train your metabolism before its an old dog thats resistant to new tricks

  10. Okay, but BMI isn’t all encompassing either. Perhaps not big-boned, but some people may have significantly more muscle mass than the average person, and if you go by BMI alone a very fit, muscular person coud end up in the obese category.

    1. If your very fit and muscular you may not the intended audience of this blog. The vast majority of the people who need to know about their BMI are not muscular enough for their muscle to be taken into account for the BMI calculation.

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