The History of BVI

By the turn of the last century, the company I founded in 1995, Select Research, had measured over 12,000 men, women and children using 3D scanning technology for clothing retailers like Next and M&S. We were pioneers of a new way to measure the body in 3D, driven by the needs of clients who wanted better measurements for clothing design.

The work was demanding but exciting and over time, I started to wonder about other applications for this new 3D technology, particularly in healthcare. Rather than just linear external measurements, what might be a better way of measuring the body in 3D in health? BMI – was quick, simple to use and easy to understand, but 3D was new and different, so whatever was created had to be the same - simple and easy to understand. I imagined whether we could ‘reverse’ the technology – not just external circumferences but part volumes and in particular whether we could measure the ‘stomach’ or ‘abdomen’ – a 3D shape in its own right. The concept was born, but the cost of the full body scanners against BMI was always going to be a problem. However, the idea seemed such an obvious use of 3D technology, then in it’s infancy that I decided to pursue it to see if it could be done.

I wondered – if you could measure the volume of different parts of a person’s body, then people of the same BMI could be compared? The volumes of the abdomen of different people could be measured? Differences obvious to the human eye could be measured - the human eye can measure to a degree by just looking at someone, just not very well!  I could see the human body like an egg shell with space to be filled up – which body parts were where, how much volume did each one take up and the key question – how much did each part weigh? I knew muscle weighted more than fat, so if you could measure where fat and muscle where on a person’s body, you could apply different risk to people with athletic build and those with more weight around the stomach, even though they had the same BMI. The idea was simple – part volumes meant part weight distribution - I quickly realised the possibilities were endless, but how could it be achieved?

‘Body volume’ was born,  but I still needed a name to link the old BMI with the new, so I termed it ‘Body Volume Index’; starting as an ‘indicator’ and then growing to be an ‘index’ when enough data could justify that tag. The abbreviation ‘BVI’ was, to me, a simple and effective comparator to BMI.

Software development continued throughout 2000 and early 2001, then was delayed for national sizing project for the UK Government, but as soon as this project was finished in 2004, we received a research grant and started to gather some of the best scientists and researchers in the world to make BVI a reality.

The validation studies to start ‘body volume’ development were launched on March 23rd 2007, seven years after the idea was conceived and one month after the patent was published. Now after nearly 10 years of development involving collaborators from the Midlands, other parts of the UK, Europe and the United States, Smartphone and iPad technology has brought BVI to life. We have incredible body composition data and software and scientific experts who have helped fill that ‘shell’ with the right data and the right assumptions.

BMI is simple, easy to understand and universally used and will always have a place, but it was invented in 1830 and we are lucky to have the benefit of technology which simply wasn’t in the world then. BVI was never meant to a replacement but an enhancement to BMI and the friends, family, colleagues, collaborators and funders who understood that have helped get BVI to that stage and deserve the credit. For their support, I am eternally grateful.

BVI, through this research for the NHS, is now being made available for the first time. We believe we have provided something of real value, but only time will tell. If we have, then the journey will have been worth it.

Thank you for taking the time to read this story and welcome to the start of the next journey.

Best wishes

RICHARD BARNES

CEO and Founder, Select Research Ltd