Is BMI A Bad Obesity Barometer?

A Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology report has shed new light on 'metabolically healthy obesity' — those people who have a Body Mass Index (BMI) of over 30 but are not at increased risk of obesity-related diseases. It's like you've been telling us all along: BMI has always been flawed when it comes to assessing unhealthy fat levels. Now science wants to make it official.

Obese picture from Shutterstock

Researchers from the German Institute of Human Nutrition and the University of Tübingen analysed a range of scientific data relating to fat distribution patterns, liver fat content, waist circumference, insulin resistance and fitness levels in individuals with a BMI of more than 30, which is classed as obese.

They found that the metabolic profile of an obese individual varies considerably when all these factors are considered together. They also found that excess fat does not automatically lead to health complications such as cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes — especially if the individual is physically active, has a high insulin resistance and isn't huge in the middle.

"[Our findings] underscore the need to consider other metabolic and anthropometric parameters in addition to BMI," the report explains.

This is something that our readers are constantly pointing out in our health articles relating to weight. However, while the anomaly has recently been recognised by medical practitioners, there haven't been many large-scale scientific studies to back the facts up.

“At the moment, the public health relevance of metabolically healthy obesity is unclear, because of uncertainties about its definition and clinical applications," explains lead author Professor Matthias Schulze.

"Developing standard criteria to define metabolically healthy obesity, and gaining a deeper understanding of the biological mechanisms behind it, would potentially remove these barriers, and could lead to improved targeting of treatment."

See also: How Much Should You Weigh? | Ask LH: How Can I Put On Weight? | Do Overweight People Live Longer?

Metabolically healthy obesity: epidemiology, mechanisms, and clinical implications [The Lancet]


Comments

    I don't need to know the BMI of someone who is fat, to tell that they are fat.

    And are people who aren't fat lying awake at night worried that their BMI is saying they're fat?

    Last edited 04/09/13 11:27 am

    Exactly @pukoh - BMI, waist circumference, pinch test, lifestyle evaluation, common sense. Together these can tell you what you need to know.

    Isn't BMI designed as a measure of a population. It doesn't tell anything about a specific individual but as a whole can help determine if a population is overweight or under weight?

      Totally correct. BMI was put in place as an easy measure of obesity on a population level. The extremes, are evened out in this case. Differences in mesomorph, ectomorph, and endomorph are smoothed out. In saying that, people with a BMI that classifies them as morbidly obese should still pay attention

    BMI is a stupid 200 year old calculation that lazy organisations use when there are so many better things out now to check if person is over weight.
    BodPod – Body Composition, Dexa Xray scans, you can even get the home scales that give you a ok reading on fat/muscle/bone breakdown

    I've always found that fat people have a certain smell about them. The fatter they are, the more pungent the smell. Surely some sort of smell test would provide the exact data we need.

    BMI is still a useful general indicator, until there is something better that is a simple formula and requires no equipment/measurement. The problem is not with BMI but with people who think a single number can take into account EVERYTHING. Of course it can't. It is a GENERAL INDICATOR that you MIGHT be overweight/underweight. That does not mean it is flawed.

      @hugh2323 I agree it's a ok General Indicator but the problem is originations, Governments, Army use this measurement as FACT and the only FACT in saying a country is over weight.

      Last edited 05/09/13 10:15 am

        And within that context they are justified in doing so. Variations in body composition between people are evened out when looking at the population level. It is a terrible indicator for a single person and was only ever meant to be used as a tool to quantify obesity for an entire population.

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