Is BMI really the best way to measure your health?

Other more accurate ways to measure health are "expensive, cumbersome and not practical for large studies," Dr. Ahima says. Credit: Metro File
Other more accurate ways to measure health are “expensive, cumbersome and not practical for large studies,” Dr. Ahima says.
Credit: Metro File

In the early 19th century, doctors still commonly prescribed bloodletting to treat ailments and disease, and a bag of live caterpillars tied around the neck was considered an effective treatment for whooping cough. Yet despite vast scientific advances in medicine since then, many doctors still use the formula for determining healthy body weight that a Belgian mathematician created in the 1830s. This system, now referred to as the Body Mass Index (BMI), measures body fat based on your height and weight and is recommended by both the Centers for Disease Control and National Institutes of Health – even though according to recent research, BMI is inaccurate and unhelpful in evaluating risk of obesity-related diseases and mortality.

“Someone with muscle mass has a lower risk of disease, even if they’re overweight according to their BMI,” says Westbury, N.Y.-based Dr. Andre Giannakopoulos, Diplomate on the American Board of Internal Medicine and the American Board of Obesity Medicine and an obesity specialist at the Center for Medical Weight Loss. “For example, a construction worker who’s muscular but not necessarily an athlete might be slightly overweight, but that might nevertheless be a healthy weight for him. It’s the amount of fat on the body in terms of percentage that contributes to risk.”

Because it doesn’t take muscle mass, body fat composition, bone density and racial and sex differences into account, BMI shouldn’t be the main tool to determine whether someone is at risk of more than 50 obesity-related health problems and diseases such as cancer, heart disease, hypertension and sleep apnea, says Rexford S. Ahima, M.D., Ph.D., professor of medicine at the University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine and co-author of an article regarding the difficulty of treating obesity published in the journal Science.

“Although BMI isn’t very accurate, it’s simple, cheap and can be used for comparative studies in various populations,” Dr. Ahima says. “Accurate measures for body fat, such us underwater weighing, CT scan, MRI and DEXA, are expensive, cumbersome and not practical for large studies.”

But as a growing body of research links obesity with expensive-to-treat chronic diseases, insurance companies are becoming more apt to cover medical treatment for obesity, Dr. Giannakopoulos says. Which is good news for the more than one-third of Americans who are obese.

“Treating obesity is much more complex than simply telling people to eat less and exercise more,” says Dr. Giannakopoulos. “People can take in fewer calories than their bodies need yet still not lose weight. Looking at overall blood work, for example, can uncover medical issues that could be making weight loss more difficult. A combination of regular office visits, behavior modification, counseling, nutrition help and supplements all can help reverse the medical complications cause by obesity.”



News
Entertainment
Sports
Lifestyle
National

OkCupid admits to Facebook-style experimenting on customers

By Sarah McBrideSAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - OkCupid, a top U.S. matchmaking website, intentionally mismatched users to test its technology, the IAC/InterActive Corp service said on…

Local

MTA fares still increasing 4 percent in newly…

The agency said the 4 percent increases, previously announced in December, will remain steady even as the MTA deals with increasing labor costs.

Local

De Blasio, Bratton defend city's efforts after Eric…

Mayor Bill de Blasio justified the city's response to the death of Eric Garner, a Staten Island man who died while in police custody earlier this month.

National

PHOTO: New Zealand Heral uses wrong image to…

The New Zealand Herald made a terrible mistake of using the wrong image to illustrate the tragic death of Staff Sergeant Guy Boyland – a New Zealand-born Israeli soldier who…

Movies

Interview: Brendan Gleeson on the way 'Calvary' depicts…

Brendan Gleeson talks about how his new film "Calvary" began over drinks and how his character here is the opposite of the lead in "The Guard."

Movies

'Get on Up' producer Mick Jagger on the…

Mick Jagger, a producer on the James Brown biopic "Get on Up," talks about the time had to tell the singer some bad news and his favorite JB record.

Television

'Glee' star Lea Michele to appear on 'Sons…

"Glee" star Lea Michele has been confirmed as a guest star in the final season of "Sons of Anarchy."

Television

TV watch list, Monday, July 28: 'The Bachelorette'…

See Andi Dorfman make her big choice on tonight's 'Bachelorette' finale.

NFL

Larry Donnell has inside track in Giants tight…

Little-known Larry Donnell of Grambling State currently has the inside track, as the second-year player has received the bulk of the first-team reps.

NFL

Computer to Jets: Start Michael Vick over Geno…

Jets general manager John Idzik says the choice of who starts between second-year quarterback Geno Smith and veteran Michael Vick will be a “Jets decision.”

MLB

Yankees looking to trade for Josh Willingham: Report

CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman reported Sunday the Yankees are interested in Twins outfielder Josh Willingham.

MLB

Joe Torre: I'm in Hall of Fame because…

Joe Torre spent 18 years putting together a near Hall of Fame career as a player. But it was the 12 years he spent as…

Travel

Glasgow: Hey, hey, the gangs aren't here

This European city has done a good job getting rid of its more violent residents and revitalizing with artists.

Education

Babson College tops list of best colleges for…

Money magazine has just released its inaugural list of "The Best Colleges for Your Money" -- and the answers have surprised many. Babson College, which…

Education

NYC teens learn how to develop apps during…

Through a program sponsored by CampInteractive, the high schoolers designed their own community-focused apps.

Tech

The Ministry of Silly Walks app is both…

Monty Python have dug into their back catalogue for cash-ins once more, but with the Ministry of Silly Walks app, they've made something that's fun too.