New Study Leads CDC to Declare Obesity Epidemic Worse than Realized

If you are a healthcare professional, you may be avidly aware of the standard of measurement for classifying underweight, normal weight, overweight and obesity in people – BMI or body mass index.  As a healthcare professional, you likely use this standard of measurement to help your clients quantify and compare their weight or you toss this standard of measurement aside because you know it can grossly misconstrue the truth.

As it turns out, the BMI has created more than a poor representation of personal health when it comes to weight gain – it has caused a significant underestimation of the number of individuals who are obese in the United States.

Eric Braverman, a lead author of a recent study out of the New York University School of Medicine that analyzed the effectiveness of the BMI, says that people who have lost a lot of muscle mass, such as older women, should often be classified as obese, although the current BMI standards measure them as overweight.

Braverman suggests that this may be corrected by lowering BMI classifications. Currently, a BMI of 30 or higher is considered obese with class II obesity hovering at a BMI of 35. By the new standards, as recommended by Braverman, the classification should be lowered to 24 for women and 28 for men. To put this into perspective, a woman who stands 5 feet 6 inches tall who weighs 150 pounds, and a man who is 5 feet 11 inches tall, who weighs 200 pounds, would both fall into the obese category.

The purpose of the change is to make more individuals aware of their risk of disease. Many people who are overweight or obese, but not by BMI standards, are not getting the counseling to prevent disease or improve their health.

“Patients are being misinformed that they are fit and thin, and then they bump into heart attacks and diabetes as they age. If they were told the truth when they were young, they could do something about it.”    – Eric Braverman to U.S. News.

In the study, Braverman and coauthor, Nirav Shah, compared the BMI of approximately 1,400 men and women with body fat percentage. They observed a gross misrepresentation by the BMI in 39 percent of the subjects – their BMI read as “overweight,” while their body fat percentage qualified as obese.  This observation was more prevalent among women than men. Most likely because women lose muscle mass more quickly as they age.

“Making these changes now can save the U.S. a fortune down the road, if it allows us to alert more people to their risks and prevent them from getting worse.”           – Eric Braverman to CNN.

BMI is currently the “favorite” measure of obesity because it is available at no cost, but better indicators, like accurate measurements of body fat and testing leptin levels – the hormone responsible for energy and appetite regulation – are becoming less expensive. High levels of leptin have been classically shown to be linked to obesity-related health complications. Braverman believes that using a “three-pronged approach” – specialized measurement of body fat percentage, testing leptin levels and lowering BMI standards – would be a step in the right direction for preventive health and defeating the obesity epidemic.

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