UK: BMI remains useful gauge of obesity

08 February 2019

The body mass index (BMI) remains useful for assessing obesity and health, despite criticism that it cannot distinguish fat from lean mass, a study suggests.

Researchers examined body scans from 2840 young people aged 10 to 18 from Bristol’s Children of the 90s population study, comparing BMI findings with more precise measures of body fat.

They studied the effects of total fat, as well as fat in the trunk, arms and legs, on 230 different traits relevant to metabolism and future heart disease risk.

The study, published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, showed that higher BMI had similar effects to higher total and trunk fat, reflecting a close overlap between the measures.

Bristol University’s Dr Joshua Bell, who led the study, said: ‘BMI is often criticised.

Our study asked how useful it really is for detecting the health effects of obesity by pitching it against more objective body scan measures.

‘We found that […] simple BMI gives very similar answers to more detailed measures. This is good news since BMI is widely measured and costs virtually nothing.’

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