Finding New Ways to Measure Obesity

The current measurement for classifying obesity in the United States is flawed. 

Earlier this month research emerged suggesting that overweight people have a lower risk of mortality than normal weight people. Criticism of the study flared from other experts, placing the blame on the current, often unreliable body mass index, or BMI.

The trouble with BMI is that it is merely a ratio of proportions. It only takes into account two factors – your height and your weight. That’s it.  It does not factor in, your frame size, lean mass or fat mass or any other risk factors that demonstrate just how risky being overweight or obese is for your health. To put it in perspective, Arnold Schwarzenegger, at the height of his bodybuilding career, would have been classified as obese by the BMI scale. And, in a report out in 2012, researchers uncovered evidence that the number of overweight and obese people in the nation are actually much higher because middle-aged women with diminishing muscle mass and shrinking bones, but plenty of fat are classified as normal weight by the BMI scale.

waist circumference predicts disease risk

Photo credit: The Wall Street Journal

Changing the system now would be as challenging as switching to the metric system in the U.S. But, some researchers say there is an easier, more effective measurement – waist circumference.

One simple measurement, one single number can tell you a lot about a person and their health. Regardless of height, waist circumference is an accurate determination of overweight/obesity and risk of disease. There is one flaw – underweight individuals, particularly those who are “skinny fat” – will not be accurately assessed. BMI, however inaccurately classifies multiple groups at high-risk.

According to the National Institutes of Health, “Measuring waist circumference helps screen for possible health risks that come with overweight and obesity. If most of your fat is around your waist rather than at your hips, you’re at a higher risk for heart disease and type 2 diabetes. This risk goes up with a waist size that is greater than 35 inches for women or greater than 40 inches for men. To correctly measure your waist, stand and place a tape measure around your middle, just above your hipbones. Measure your waist just after you breathe out.”

Read more from The Wall Street Journal: A Good Way to Measure Obesity? Fat Chance

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