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BMI does not Depict An Accurate Picture About Health

Update Date: Aug 24, 2013 10:33 AM EDT

In order to categorize obesity and study it, researchers and doctors use the body mass index (BMI). BMI calculates one's weight in relation to height to determine if the individual falls under the obesity range. A BMI of over 30 is considered to be obese. Even though BMI has been used since it was created by Belgian mathematician Adolphe Quetelet in 1832, a new report suggests that BMI does not depict an accurate picture regarding people's health.

For this editorial, a pair of physicians from the University of Pennsylvania worked with obesity researchers to determine how effective BMI was in predicting health conditions that are often associated with obesity, such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and other health conditions. The authors cited several studies that revealed that lean people who end up developing type 2 diabetes might not fare better than obese people. Due to the stereotypes that obese people are unhealthy and lean people are healthy, leaner people might not get diagnosed with health conditions as fast as obese people would, making the condition worse by the time they have discovered it.

"Most studies depend on BMI, and we know it's not a very accurate measure," one of the authors, Dr. Rexford Ahima said. Ahima is a medical professor that UPenn.

The authors noted that BMI also does not measure how much belly fat people have. Belly fat has been tied to being a host for illnesses. On top of this, the researchers also stated that BMI does not take into account muscle mass. People with higher muscle mass might have BMIs that fall under the obesity range but are not obese. Despite the fact that BMI is not an effective way of measuring obesity and health risks, it is a cheap and efficient way of measuring body health. Other options, which would include CT scans, MRI scans and DEXA scans are very expensive to do.

"There is an urgent need for accurate, practical, and affordable tools for assessing body composition, adipose hormones, myokines, cytokines and other biomarkers as predictive tools," the authors wrote according to LA Times.

The report was published in Science.

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