A large body frame is a skeletal structure that is bigger, wider, or denser than average. A person with a larger frame often stands taller and is broader than his or her peers. It’s easy to confuse big frames with fatness, but the two are usually really different. A person with this sort of bone structure can be in great shape and have a normal body mass index (BMI) but not be slender or thin. People can lose weight through diet and exercise, but there’s not usually any way to make a skeleton smaller. Medical experts can sometimes determine whether a person has a large frame by measuring the wrist and elbow, but most are also quick to emphasize that overall health is more important than size or raw weight.
Whether or not a person has a large frame isn’t usually a matter of precise science, and the term doesn’t have an exact definition. Still, there are a few informal ways of figuring out whether a large person is big because of excess weight or big because of bone structure. One of the quickest is for a person to wrap his or her thumb and longest finger around the wrist. If the two fingers do not touch, that person could have a large frame, while someone whose fingers overlap could be considered small framed. Actually measuring the wrist is usually a bit more accurate, and when this number is combined with a person’s height the results are often pretty easy to quantify.
Sex and height become factors when using wrist measurements to determine body frame size. If a woman under 5 feet 2 inches (about 155 cm) tall has a wrist over 5.75 inches (about 146 mm) around, then her body frame may be considered large, but a woman over 5 feet 5 inches (about 163 cm) tall might not be thought to have a large frame unless her wrist was over 6.5 inches (about 165 mm) around. A man over 5 feet 5 inches (about 163 cm) tall with a large body frame would generally have a wrist circumference of over 7.5 inches (191 mm).
Another measurement that can help determine a person's body frame size is elbow width, which is taken by bending the elbow and holding the forearm up to form a 90° angle. On either side of the elbow, a protruding bone can be located and it is the distance between these bones that makes up the person's elbow width. A 5 foot (about 150 cm) tall woman with an elbow width of more than 2.5 inches (about 64 mm) is usually considered large framed, although a 6 foot (about 180 cm) tall woman would need to have an elbow width over 2.75 inches (about 70 mm) before she fell into the large range. Taking sex into consideration, a 6 foot (about 180 cm) tall man with an elbow width of over 3.125 inches (about 79 mm) may have a large frame.
BMI Calculations and Adjustments
Most medical professionals and health care providers pay the most attention to patient BMI. A person can be well within the healthy range while still looking big if he or she has a large body frame.
BMI is typically calculated by measuring weight in relation to height. It can be a good general benchmark for health particularly when looking at large sectors of society or general age demographics, but it does not take into consideration that people have different body frames. A person with a large body frame may have a slightly higher BMI than that someone of the same height and basic physique who has a smaller frame because his or her bone mass will necessarily be greater.
In most cases the BMI will still give a general indication of a person’s health, but the higher number can be discouraging. Some experts factor frame in with the BMI to calculate a more realistic “ideal” or “healthy” weight range. Generally, a person with a large frame can determine this range by using the BMI and then adding 10 percent to that number.
What Frames Say About Healthy Weight
Despite what many cultural and societal messages about weight and “ideal” body types, most health care providers stress that the most important thing is that people are healthy. Having a healthy weight is not usually the same thing as looking thin and svelte. People with large frames can be toned, fit, and healthier than others who are smaller, even though their body shape may not fit the mold of what society considers desirable.