Body mass index isn’t a reliable health indicator, other factors being much more important in deciding if a person is indeed at risk, a recent study has revealed.
The findings were featured on Thursday, February 4, in the International Journal of Obesity, and represented the culmination of a study led by A. Janet Tomiyama, assistant professor of health psychology at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA).
The focus of the research was the body mass index (BMI), which calculates an individual’s body fat, depending on weight and height.
In theory, a normal BMI is between 18.5 and 24.9; if someone has a BMI that’s lower than 18.5, it means that the person is underweight. Similarly, a body mass index between 25.9 and 29.9 suggests the individual is overweight, while a value of 30 or upwards is considered an unmistakable sign of obesity.
Great emphasis has been placed on the BMI in recent years, people being deemed unhealthy simply because their weight status has suggested they are overweight or obese.
More precisely, those with an elevated body mass index are considered more at risk of suffering from diabetes, cardiovascular disease, sleep disorders, joint problems etc.
As a result, they tend to be charged more when it comes to health insurance, being required to pay more sizable premiums than the rest of the population.
Study authors wanted to see if these health concerns and corresponding insurance costs were justified, which is why they reviewed data collected during the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, which included 40,420 subjects aged 18 or upwards.
They determined that 47.4% of the individuals who had been classified as overweight or obese based on their body mass index were in fact in good health.
In contrast, 30% of the subjects included in the normal weight category were proven to have significant health issues, when researchers took into account other indicators such as blood pressure, lipid profile (triglycerides, cholesterol), blood sugar levels etc.
This suggests that nationwide approximately 34.4 million people are wrongly considered to be unhealthy, while about 19.8 million are under-diagnosed just because of their supposedly healthy BMI.
Based on these surprising results, study authors believe that body mass index shouldn’t be the sole measurement that patients and medical practitioners should focus on.
As explained by Jeffrey Hunger, doctoral candidate at the University of California, Santa Barbara, BMI assessments may actually lead to more confusion and medical errors, given that higher values don’t automatically correspond to poor health, just like normal ones aren’t necessarily linked to absence of ailments and diseases.
Consequently, a wider array of health indicators should be used instead, in order to paint a clearer picture of each individual’s physical well-being.
In addition, the focus should be switched from attaining a specific weight to introducing healthy changes, such as having a balanced diet, exercising on a regular basis, and benefiting from enough rest.
As study authors point out, if greater awareness is raised in the medical community regarding how ineffectual body mass calculations can be, unhealthy persons with a normal BMI will be more effectively diagnosed and treated for their underlying health issues.
Similarly, if these findings are also brought to the attention of insurance companies, health risk assessments will finally be more reliable and objective, so that healthy people with a high body mass index are no longer required to pay overblown premiums just because of their extra pounds.
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