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1Life Healthcare Inc.

07/23/2021 | News release | Distributed by Public on 07/24/2021 10:44

Understanding BMI: Is it a Good Predictor of Health?

BMI can be a predictor of potential health problems because it defines and measures obesity. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, obesity can increase a person's risk of:

  • High blood pressure (hypertension)
  • High cholesterol
  • Type two diabetes
  • Heart disease
  • Stroke
  • Sleep apnea and other breathing problems
  • Gallbladder disease
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Some cancers, including endometrial, breast, colon, kidney, gallbladder, and liver
  • Mental illness
  • Early death

While body mass index is one potentially important part of a patient's health picture, it's not the sole indicator -- primarily because it doesn't distinguish between weight from fat and muscle. For example, Chang says BMI may be an inaccurate measure of health for those who have a high percentage of muscle mass (and therefore weigh more), such as athletes or bodybuilders.

BMI may also be an inaccurate tool for determining the health of older adults. Because elderly people tend to lose muscle and bone mass as they age, their BMI could be considered 'normal,' but they might actually be overweight. And since the body mass index was developed to measure mostly Caucasian body types, it could fall short for other people from other ethnic backgrounds.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, body mass index alone isn't a perfect predictor of a person's health or risk factors, even if a person is overweight. If a provider thinks a patient is at risk for obesity-related health problems, they will further assess factors like a patients' diet, physical activity, and family history. Think of BMI as a starting point for understanding health, rather than the whole picture.

Instead of solely relying on body mass index measurement, Chang also suggests paying close attention to waist circumference, or the measurement slightly above your hip bones, which she says can be a more accurate predictor of metabolic disease.

'Evidence has shown abdominal obesity, or more than 35 inches for women and more than 40 inches for men, to be a greater risk factor for diabetes and heart disease than BMI, in addition to other predictive risk factors, such as high blood pressure, elevated fasting blood sugar, and low HDL cholesterol,' Chang says.