- by Medikoe HealthTech Expert
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- May 08 2017
BMI Misidentifies 54 Million Healthy Individuals As Overweight Or Obese
Findings could spell the death knell for BMI as a health measurement tool.
A University of California study concluded approximately 54 million Americans classified as overweight or obese based on their Body Mass Index (BMI) are actually healthy. The study, led by A. Janet Tomiyama, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of California-Los Angeles (UCLA), analyzed the link between BMI and cardiometabolic health using data from the most recent National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES).
The findings, published in the International Journal of Obesity, reveal employers could potentially saddle people with unfairly high health insurance costs based on a deeply flawed measure of actual health. Furthermore, BMI conversely indicates some individuals as healthy when they actually are not. In total, the study found almost 75 million U.S. adults misclassified using BMI.
Co-author Jeffrey Hunger, a doctoral candidate at the University of California-Santa Barbara, urges people to obsess less about their weight and focus on following a healthy diet and taking regular exercise. He says their study confirms how flawed BMI is as an indicator of health and concludes “this should be the final nail in the coffin for BMI.”
In 2013, Medical News Today reported on a Science paper discussing why BMI is an inaccurate measure of body fat content and how there is an urgent need for accurate, practical, and affordable tools to measure biomarkers that can better predict the risks of disease and death. “The public is used to hearing ‘obesity,’ and they mistakenly see it as a death sentence. 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,” said Tomiyama, who further argues using BMI will inappropriately penalize healthy individuals.
Accessing data from the 2005-2012 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, researchers examined whether BMI was correlated to true health markers such as blood pressure, triglycerides, cholesterol, glucose, insulin resistance, and C-reactive protein data. According to those metabolic measures, 47 percent of overweight people and 29 percent of obese people were healthy while 30 percent of “normal” weight people were unhealthy.
The findings could have huge implications for the use of BMI as a health measurement in predicting individuals’ healthcare costs and employer programs that use BMI as a factor in what they charge enrollees for healthcare.
The findings are particularly timely, according to the authors, because the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission recently proposed rules that would let employers penalize their staff for as much as 30 percent of their health insurance costs if they fail to satisfy 24 health criteria, including meeting an approved BMI.
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