Waist-to-height ratio better indicator of obesity and health risks than BMI

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New research is making the medical community rethink the Body Mass Index (BMI) as a disease-risk indicator. All you need is a measuring tape.

British researchers claim that everyone should aim to keep their waist measurement less than half of their height. Their study concludes that this simple ratio is a better predictor of heart disease and diabetes risk than BMI -- the most commonly used measure of obesity.

"Keeping your waist circumference to less than half your height can help increase life expectancy for every person in the world," Dr. Margaret Ashwell, who led the study, tells the Telegraph.

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Ashwell's study, released at the European Congress of Obesity, determined that the waist-to-height ratio was superior to BMI as it better took height differences and ethnic groups into account.

She notes that BMI also fails to recognize muscle mass and the way that fat is distributed throughout the body. A muscular individual's BMI might incorrectly conclude obesity. As well, abdominal fat affects the heart, kidneys and liver more negatively than does fat around the hips and buttocks.

"Buh-bye, BMI," Dr. Pamela Peeke, tells WebMD. "I have been saying this forever."

"Take out your tape measure, and really pay attention to your waist and waist-to-height ratio. This is the way to go, and it puts you in touch with your body."

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Health Canada currently uses both BMI and weight circumference (WC) "to assess the risk of developing health problems associated with overweight or underweight." Men with a WC greater than 40 inches and women with a WC greater than 35 inches are at an increased risk of developing diabetes, high blood pressure and heart problems. Height is not currently part of the equation.

See Health Canada's BMI formula here.

While the British researchers are calling for a new way to measure obesity, an American non-profit public health organization, Institute of Medicine, just called for the their country's doctors to treat BMI as a vital sign alongside heart rate and blood pressure.

Last year, Statistics Canada released a 2007-2009 survey that found 24.1 per cent of Canadian adults are clinically obese compared to 32.6 per cent of American adults. (Interestingly, in a 2010 survey, only 18.1 per cent of Canadians classified themselves as obese.)

A new report estimates that almost half of Americans will be obese by 2030.

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