BMI Percentile Calculator for Men and Women in the United States (2016)

August 15th, 2023 by 

On this page is a BMI percentile calculator for men and women, 18 years old and up in the United States. Although the US BMI distribution mostly matches for females and males across the range, there is divergence at higher and lower BMI percentiles.

BMI is a height and weight based formula to estimate whether a person has a healthy weight for their height. Use our BMI Calculator to compute a BMI using height and weight as inputs.

BMI Percentile Calculator for Men and Women in the United States

Data comes from 5,662 adults (2,944 female and 2,718 male) with valid BMIs in the CDC's  2015-16 NHANES survey. Heights and weights measured at a mobile examination center.

Median and Average BMI for Men and Women

As we mentioned in our post on the distribution of BMIs for the United States, the adult average BMI was 29.3 and adult median BMI was 28.2. Mean and median varied a bit for women and men in the sample.

Average and Median BMI for Women

In the United States in 2016 among adults, the median female BMI was 28.3. Women averaged a BMI of 29.58.

Average and Median BMI for Men

For men in the United States 18 or older in 2016, the median BMI was 28.0. Men averaged a BMI of 29.01.

Selected BMI Percentiles for Men and Women

As we mentioned in the introduction, men and women had BMI distributions which reasonably matched near the center of the BMI distribution. At the extremes is where we see a divergence: men had higher BMIs at the lower percentiles, and women had higher BMIs at the higher percentiles of the BMI distribution.

Here are some selected breakpoints for men and women at various percentiles:

US Female and Male BMI PercentileWomenMen

The sexes have parity at the 47th percentile, where both women and men break at a BMI of 27.7. At the lowest extreme, the 1st percentile ends at a BMI of 17.6 for women and for males at 18.1. The 99th percentile for BMI starts at 53.9 for women and 49.7 for men.

Healthy and Non-Healthy BMI Distribution for Men and Women

While it has failings on an individual level, BMI is an excellent indicator for health status on a population basis. Over a large population, body composition, diet, and exercise habits even out making classifications by BMI broadly useful.

The CDC splits BMI into 4 categories for adults:

  • < 18.5 Underweight
  • 18.5 – 25 Healthy Weight
  • 25 – 30 Overweight
  • 30 and up Obese

Applying the CDC guidelines to male and female BMIs in the United States, here's the estimated breakdown of BMI categories:

American BMI CategoryEstimated WomenPercentage of WomenEstimated MenPercentage of Men
Healthy Weight37,011,96229.71%28,959,54725.00%

How About an Anorexia BMI?

Please note that BMI is not the only criteria for the eating disorder Anorexia Nervosa, nor does a sufficient BMI rule it out (consult a doctor to be sure). Neither is anorexia the only eating disorder that causes low BMI. However, one of the diagnostic criteria for anorexia is (or was) a BMI of 17.5 or below.

To be careful, we will call our division "maximum BMI of 17.5". Here's how many men and women we estimate maintained that BMI or below in 2016:

BMI 17.5 or Below in the US, Estimated
Adult FemalesPrevalenceAdult MalesPrevalence

Note that the data is skewed by this article's focus on adult males and females. Anorexia is most common for females between the ages of 15-24 so we are missing some important ages.

BMI Calculator for Women illustrating athletic woman.
BMI often misclassifies athletic individuals.

American BMI Distributions for Women and Men

Disclaimer: Nothing on this site, including BMI numbers and categories, is medical advice. Always consult a doctor, nutritionist, trainer, or other professional with concerns about your health or BMI. Also to be clear, BMI is not the best indicator of healthy weight status in an individual: it ignores individual body composition.

As we've mentioned before, BMI is a useful indicator but not necessarily the best number to target for your own goals. Readings that incorporate more inputs (such as body fat percentage) give a better picture of body composition. That doesn't mean this data is "bad", though - on a population level variations smooth out. We can say that the majority of both men and women were either overweight or obese in 2016.

(We'll try to characterize how often the CDC's categories misclassify individuals in another post.)

Did any of this data come as a surprise? Did you roughly expect these BMI distributions for men and women? Let us know what you think!



PK started DQYDJ in 2009 to research and discuss finance and investing and help answer financial questions. He's expanded DQYDJ to build visualizations, calculators, and interactive tools.

PK lives in New Hampshire with his wife, kids, and dog.

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