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Forget about body shape: BMI predicts health risks

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
New research shows BMI best predictor of health risks compared to other methods.

There has been some debate about the best way to gauge a person's health risks related to obesity. New research suggest body mass index or BMI is still the best way to know if a person is at risk for heart disease or other complications of being overweight, compared to newer technology.

When researchers compared waist to hip ratio, waist circumference, body fat percentage and body mass, they found BMI surpassed other measure of gauging a person's risk factors for poor health.

The new study that was conducted by EHE International Medical Advisory Board member Dr. Andrew Rundle and published January 12 in Obesity Research and Clinical Practice suggests higher than normal body mass index indeed means you probably have health risks that should be addressed.

Rundle said in a press release that there's been some controversy surrounding the measurement, given newer technologies that can measure fat as opposed to height and weight ratio.

"The data conclusively supports clinicians making recommendations for further testing and treatment based on BMI measurements, and patients heeding recommendations based on BMI,” Rundle said.

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For their study, Rundle and colleagues measured height and weight, waist size, body fat percentage, blood pressure, cholesterol levels and fasting blood sugar levels in 12,000 study participants who were part of the EHE database.

The study found BMI was a general predictor of high cholesterol levels and hypertension. Waist to hip ratio was a stronger gauge of elevated blood sugar that is a signal of pre-diabetes or diabetes. The findings were consistent regardless of race and ethnicity.

The study authors write: "The use of body mass index (BMI) to assess obesity and health risks has been criticized in scientific and lay publications because of its failure to account for body shape and inability to distinguish fat mass from lean mass."

The finding suggests clinicians should continue to talk to patients about BMI and make prevention and treatment recommendations based on the simple measurement.

Obesity Research and Clinical Practice
January-February, 2013

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