Are Millions of Us Mislabeled “Obese”?
Body Mass Index (BMI) has been a sort of shorthand gauge of overall health for doctors, and for scientists compiling data on what they call the “obesity epidemic.” But what does that number really say about us?
New research published in the International Journal of Obesity suggests that it doesn’t say what the experts think it does. The study found that using BMI to gauge health led to a miscategorization for more than 54 million Americans as "unhealthy."
The investigators studied the link between BMI and several other health markers, including blood pressure, glucose, as well as cholesterol and triglyceride levels. They found that nearly half of individuals who are considered overweight according to their BMI were actually metabolically healthy, as were 19 million people with a BMI associated with obesity.
For reference, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) cites a normal BMI falls between 18.5 and 24.9.
Lead researcher A. Janet Tomiyama noted, "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."
And the miscalculation runs both ways. The researchers found more than 30 percent of individuals in the normal or healthy BMI range were metabolically unhealthy. Overall, they believe using BMI as a proxy for health has led to nearly 75 million U.S. adults being misclassified as metabolically unhealthy or healthy.
Instead of focusing on BMI, which could lead to people obsessing over their weight, researchers recommend people focus more on eating a healthy diet and getting regular exercise.