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The ‘Maintenance Phase’ Podcast Sheds Light on Health Fads and Nutrition Nonsense
by Lydia King
Maintenance Phase is a podcast dedicated to dismantling diet myths and nutrition ideologies that are centered around the “ideal” thin body. It’s hosted by Audrey Hobbes and Michael Gordon, who handle junk nutrition science with in-depth analysis, as well as playful banter. I first came across Maintenance Phase in high school, at a time in my life that was dominated by self-imposed nutrition rules. While I felt tied to my nutrition beliefs, I actually knew very little about the science of nutrition or even why I had developed certain opinions about my food. As I began to listen to Maintenance Phase, I found that it completely shifted my preconceived notions about food and weight. And, while I enjoyed many of its episodes, one stood out: the Body Mass Index episode.
In this episode, Audrey and Michael tackle the history of the BMI index. First, they start with the story of its creation. They track its invention by the scientist Adolphe Quetelet, and how the eugenics movement began to harness the BMI. While Quetelet was attempting to find population averages, the eugenics movement asserted that there was an ideal height and weight, one that could define the “exceptional man.” Then, Audrey and Michael show how the BMI wormed itself into the healthcare establishment. Insurance companies started picking up the idea of the BMI, despite the fact that they each used different data sets. Soon, doctors started using the BMI, and it was rapidly taken up. While obesity cut-offs were often adjusted, frequently for purely bureaucratic reasons, the BMI and its categories were treated as a completely objective measure each time.
Throughout the piece, Audrey and Michael again and again show the BMI’s failings: its shaky scientific foundation, and the discrimination that it justifies. They highlight the lack of representation in its early studies, and how many BMI studies were built off datasets mainly composed of white men. They also stress that an emphasis on BMI and weight distracts from other health indicators, indicators that may be more effective at improving people’s well-being.
Audrey and Michael do an incredible job of offering a comprehensive review of the BMI, while still using accessible language and captive story-telling. As always, they insert their snappy commentary, accompanying a serious topic with moments of brevity. This episode was first released in 2021, but I still found it relevant in my re-listen. At some point in your life, you have probably had your BMI calculated. You may even be the one taking patients’ BMIs, either now or in the future. This episode offers a valuable moment to pause and question a measure that can influence how we view health.