Sunday, February 14, 2016

BMI measurement-Is it a true universal indication of "healthiness" for all?

Body Mass Index, popularly known as BMI, has been widely used since 1972, after it was coined by the renowned scientist Ancel Keys to assess the health status of human beings using the height and weight parameters. Credit must go to Adolphe Quetelet for inventing the existence of a relationship between body weight, height and health status in 1830 though it was not accepted universally. To day BMI is the golden standard to condemn any person as over weight or obese who are supposed to be more vulnerable to life style diseases like diabetes, CVD, blood pressure etc compared to those with "normal" BMI. This myth is sought to be busted by a recent study by a group of scientists in the US who found out that BMI cannot be relied upon when it comes to assessing the healthiness of an individual and whether the world will accept such a revcolutionary finding remains to be seen. Here is a take on this path breaking development.

"Over the past few years, body mass index (BMI), a ratio of a person's height and weight, has effectively become a proxy for whether a person is considered healthy. However, scientists at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), found that using BMI to gauge health incorrectly labels more than 54 million Americans as 'unhealthy', even though they are not. "Many people see obesity as a death sentence. But the data show there are tens of millions of people who are overweight and obese and are perfectly healthy," said lead author A Janet Tomiyama, an assistant professor at UCLA. The scientists analysed the link between BMI — which is calculated by dividing a person's weight in kilogrammes by the square of the person's height in metres — and several health markers, including blood pressure and glucose, cholesterol and triglyceride levels, using data from the most recent US National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. The study found that close to half of Americans who are considered 'overweight' by virtue of their BMIs (47.4 per cent, or 34.4 million people) are healthy, as are 19.8 million who are considered 'obese'. Given their health readings other than BMI, the people in both of those groups would be unlikely to incur higher medical expenses, and it would be unfair to charge them more for health care premiums, Tomiyama said. The researchers also found that more than 30 per cent of those with BMIs in the 'normal' range — about 20.7 million people — are actually unhealthy based on their other health data. About 15 per cent of Americans who are considered "very obese" by virtue of having a BMI of 35 or higher are actually healthy, researchers said."

What is shocking in these findings is that a significant segment of the population who had high BMI beyond the magical figure of 25 were perfectly healthy with no evident disease symptoms while many others with BMI less than 25 were unhealthy as measured by other health parameters. How can the world get reconciled to this contradictory situation when physicians are put into a dilemma to decide millions of cases requiring medical advice on their health status.? Should there be a reconsideration about BMI and its relation to health and is there not a need to evolve a more accurate paradigm in place of BMI? Now that questions have been raised about the reliability of BMI it is time the health and medical community take note of this crucial development and come out soon with their consensus on the issue.


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