This is definitely some good news for people who have higher BMIs but don't think that they are overweight, obese, or generally unhealthy. There has been a new study conducted by the University of California, Los Angeles, which found that over 50 million Americans who had been labelled as overweight or obese according to the BMI (body mass index) scale actually aren't unhealthy.
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Their findings were publishing in the International Journal of Obesity as part of a study on health insurance. According to that journal, employers were able to charge people with unfairly high insurance costs due to the fact that they were obese on the BMI scale.
Now it has been shown that the scale is wrong and doesn't actually measure health at all.
“This should be a final nail in the coffin for BMI,” said lead author A. Janet Tomiyama, a psychologist at UCLA.
Your body mass index is calculated by dividing your weight in kilograms by the square of your height in meters. According to the Centers for Disease Control, a “healthy” BMI is between 18.5 to 24.9, an overweight BMI is between 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.
However, this doesn't necessarily hold up because there are people who are in excellent physical shape that have been grouped into that obese or overweight group since the reading doesn't take muscle tone into account. It also doesn't show that people with "healthy" BMIs could also be unhealthy.
“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.”
This is a huge deal for many people, especially those who may be penalized up to 30% for their insurance costs if they didn't fit certain criteria, including a specific body weight.
If body mass index doesn’t accurately reflect health, then those with high BMIs potentially could be overcharged for no reason.
To help with this study, a team of UCLA researchers looked at the data from 40,420 individuals who participated in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey from 2005 to 2012. 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.
What they found is that 47.4% off overweight people at 29% of obese people are actually quite healthy from a metabolic standpoint. They also found that 30% of "normal" weighted people 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.”
These results showed that nearly 75 million adults in the US are categorized incorrectly when it related to their health.
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“Policymakers should consider the unintended consequences of relying solely on BMI,” the authors wrote in the study, “and researchers should seek to improve diagnostic tools related to weight and cardiometabolic health.”