Obesity has been a well-known risk factor for a myriad of chronic diseases including Type 2 diabetes, heart diseases, and cancer. However, recent research suggests that it’s not only the level of obesity but its type, in terms of body fat distribution, that plays a greater role.
The health industry has been estimating the risk of individuals for chronic health conditions primarily by using the Body Mass Index (BMI) tool. BMI uses a person’s weight, height, age and gender into account in order to arrive at a range of values to categorize people into a healthy or unhealthy BMI. You can find out all about BMI and how to calculate it for yourself here.
While BMI was never considered a perfect tool and has been widely debated in the health research community, recent research cautions that it may, in fact, be giving a false sense of safety. For instance, at height 5 feet and 5 inches and 145 pounds weight, your BMI calculation may show that you are in a “normal” weight range. However, the BMI does not take into account how that fat in your body is distributed around the body. Depending on your body type you may have the weight equally distributed or have a heavier upper torso or heavier legs and hips as in the case of most women.
Several research studies have shown that the distribution of fat around the abdomen, classic apple shape, is a greater predictor of cardiac and metabolic risk than the actual weight of a person.
This means that even people with a normal weight range, who have fat distributed largely around their abdomen can be predisposed to a higher risk of diabetes and pre-diabetes. Other studies have shown similar findings that a high hip to waist ratio in women predisposes them to a higher risk of cardiac diseases. Another study added a fascinating fact that people considered obese might have a lower risk of developing chronic diseases if their body fat percentage is lower. This dramatically changes the common notion that people who do not appear to be obese are somehow safer and healthier than their more obese counterparts.
Therefore, researchers are encouraging health care providers to use the traditional BMI tool in conjunction with body fat percentage and body fat distribution as their criteria to screen patients for a more accurate picture of their risk profile for conditions such as insulin resistance, high blood pressure, heart disease, and even cancer.