Scientists have found a replacement for ‘outdated’ BMI readings

Beautiful young woman measuring her waist with a measuring tape in the living room at home. BMI
Waist circumference-to-height ratio is a good way of measuring body fat instead of BMI. (Getty Images)

Body mass index (or BMI) has long been used as a definitive measure of our health.

It is calculated using someone’s weight, height, and age to determine a numerical score that puts them somewhere on a health scale.

For example, people with a BMI of under 18.5 are classified as ‘underweight’, those with a BMI between 18.6 and 24.9 are in the ‘normal weight’ range, those between 25 and 29.9 are classified as ‘overweight’, while 30 and above is classified as ‘obese’.

However, this scale has recently been called ‘outdated’ by some groups as it would place a rugby player, for example, in the ‘obese’ category.

Now, scientists have found one option that could replace BMI, and say that it can more accurately measure excess fat mass in children and adolescents.

Researchers from the University of Bristol, the University of Exeter, and the University of Eastern Finland say that the waist circumference-to-height ratio is an inexpensive way to determine excess fat mass and distinguish muscle mass from fat mass.

The findings, published in the journal Pediatric Research, came after researchers said it was critical to accurately detect overweight and obesity in children in order to make interventions.

Using BMI as a health measurement has been labelled 'outdated'. (Getty Images)
Using BMI as a health measurement has been labelled 'outdated'. (Getty Images)

It said that using BMI alone was inaccurate as two children with the same BMI may have different proportions of fat and muscle mass.

While there are expensive ways at finding the fat and muscle mass ratios such as DEXA scans, the researchers said looking at the waist circumference-to-height ratio can be up to 89% accurate, and all you need is a tape measure.

“This study provides novel information that would be useful in updating future childhood obesity guidelines and policy statements,” study author Andrew Agbaje at the University of Eastern Finland, says.

“The average waist circumference-to-height ratio in childhood, adolescence, and young adulthood is 0.45, it does not vary with age and among individuals like BMI. Waist circumference-to-height ratio might be preferable to BMI assessment in children and adolescent clinics as an inexpensive tool for detecting excess fat. Parents should not be discouraged by the BMI or weight of their children but can inexpensively confirm whether the weight is due to an increase in excess fat by examining their kid's waist circumference-to-height ratio.”

How to determine waist circumference-to-height ratio

To find your waist circumference-to-height ratio you need to measure your waist circumference and height with a tape measure, ideally in centimetres.

Then, you can place it in an online calculator such as this one which will do the measurement for you.

For example, someone who is 165cm tall and has a waist circumference measurement of 80cm will have a ratio of 0.48.

The ideal waist circumference-to-height ratio for both men and women is no more than 0.5. If it is over this number, you should talk to your GP about how to get rid of some of that excess stomach weight.

This is especially important as often the weight held around our weight and stomachs is visceral fat, which is hard belly fat that wraps around your organs. It’s different to subcutaneous fat which sits just below your skin.

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