New Research Finds Body Mass Index (BMI) Reliable Indicator of Obesity-Related Health Risks

Frequently criticized BMI performs as well as other measures of obesity; data supports making clinical recommendations based on BMI score

Jan 14, 2013, 09:00 ET from EHE International

NEW YORK, Jan. 14, 2013 /PRNewswire/ -- Body Mass Index (BMI) is a reliable indicator of obesity-related health risks, according to a new study conducted by EHE International Medical Advisory Board member Dr. Andrew Rundle. The study was published January 12 in Obesity Research and Clinical Practice.

The study compared the merits of body mass index (BMI) to other measures of body size and adiposity as a predictor of obesity-related cardiovascular health risks. When compared with other measures including waist circumference (WC), waist-to-height ratio (WtH), percent body fat (%BF), fat mass index (FMI) or fat-free mass index (FFMI), the researchers found BMI to be as good an indicator of clinical risks as the other measures of body size or composition. 

"There has been a lot of controversy recently over whether BMI, which is based simply on weight and height, is a good clinical indicator of obesity-related health risks, especially when compared to more complex measures and newer technologies," said Dr. Rundle, an Associate Professor of Epidemiology at the Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health. "I wanted to see how well BMI performs compared to other proposed measures, and our research shows that BMI performs well as a predictor of health risks. If your BMI is high, chances are good it's because you have an excess of fat tissue and that you have other health risks. The data conclusively supports clinicians making recommendations for further testing and treatment based on BMI measurements, and patients heeding recommendations based on BMI."

Dr. Rundle conducted the research with colleagues Stephen J. Mooney and Aileen Baecker. They analyzed cross-sectional measurements of height, weight, waist circumference, percent body fat, blood pressure measurements, cholesterol levels and fasting glucose levels among more than 12,000 adults using information from EHE International's database of patients. EHE is a 100-year-old, nationally-recognized leader in preventive medicine and annual physical exams.

"EHE was very pleased to participate in this study," said Debbie McKeever, president of EHE International. "The successes of BMI in predicting health risks are an important finding that will help doctors practice better preventive medicine and allow patients to take a more proactive role in understanding and managing their health."

The study also found:

  • BMI is the strongest predictor of blood pressure
  • Waist circumference and waist-to-height ratio performed better at predicting fasting glucose levels, an important factor used to diagnose diabetes
  • BMI is roughly comparable to other measures at predicting cholesterol levels
  • Variables stratified by race and ethnicity had no significantly stronger associations

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