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BMI Misreads Health of 54m
People

BMI Misreads Health of 54m

Good news for some in the high-BMI crowd: A new study finds that about 54 million Americans who are labeled as obese or overweight according to their body mass index are, when you take a closer look, actually healthy.
The findings from researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles, published in the International Journal of Obesity, reveal that employers could potentially saddle people with unfairly high health insurance costs based on a deeply flawed measure of actual health, NDTV reported.
“This should be a final nail in the coffin for BMI,” said lead author A. Janet Tomiyama, a psychologist at UCLA.
Body mass index is calculated by dividing a person’s weight by the square of the person’s height. According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a “healthy” BMI is 18.5 to 24.9, an overweight BMI is 25 to 29.9 and an obese BMI is 30 or higher. The calculation has been seen as a slightly more nuanced way to measure health than weight alone.
But over time, researchers have begun to suspect that people with so-called healthy BMIs can be very unhealthy and those with high BMIs can actually be in very good shape.
“The public is used to hearing ‘obesity,’ and they mistakenly see it as a death sentence,” Tomiyama said. “But obesity is just a number based on BMI, and we think BMI is just a really crude and terrible indicator of someone’s health.”
That would be a pretty big deal, especially since the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission recently proposed rules that would allow employers to penalize employees for up to 30% of their health insurance costs if they don’t meet 24 health criteria, which include meeting a specific BMI. If BMI doesn’t accurately reflect health, then those with high numbers potentially could be overcharged for no reason.
To find out whether BMI correlated with actual markers of health, a team of UCLA researchers analyzed data from 40,420 individuals who participated in the 2005 -2012 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. They looked at individuals’ blood pressure, triglycerides, cholesterol, glucose, insulin resistance and C-reactive protein data — markers that are linked to heart disease and inflammation, among other issues.
They found that nearly half, or 47.4%, of overweight people and 29% of obese people were, from a metabolic standpoint, quite healthy. On the flip side, more than 30% of individuals with “normal” weights were metabolically unhealthy. “The reason I think people rely on BMI is because it’s easy; if you know someone’s weight and you know someone’s height, then out pops this magical number,” Tomiyama said. “But getting blood pressure is pretty easy, too. It takes maybe 20 seconds if you have the machine. And so I really think focusing on better health markers like blood pressure is a better way to go about it, particularly when we’re talking about financial penalties.”

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