Forget BMI… Here’s The Real Number You Should Know for Your Health

Forget body-mass index and other metrics: This simple number, which you can figure out at home, predicts your weight-related health risk best.


Selene Yeager |

Forget body-mass index and other metrics: This simple number, which you can figure out at home, predicts your weight-related health risk best. – By Selene Yeager

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If you want to know whether your body fat puts your health at risk, measure your waistline and divide it by your height. That number can predict obesity—which has been linked to diseases such as heart disease and diabetes—better than any other formulas, according to a new study from Leeds Beckett University, including the widely debunked Body Mass Index (BMI).

In the study, researchers organised 41 adult male and 40 adult female subjects and compiled data on their abdominal fat: the visceral type of fat stored around your middle, which wreaks havoc with your internal organs and health.

They then took common clinical measurements including BMI, waist circumference, waist-to-hip ratio, waist-to-height ratio, and a more complicated variation of waist-to-height ratio to see how closely they compared to actual body fat levels. In the end, the simple version of waist-to-height ratio was the most accurate.

You don’t have to know percentages or indexes to get an idea of your health risk. All you have to know is that, to best avoid the ill effects of too much abdominal fat, you should aim to keep your waist circumference to less than half your height, says study author Michelle Swainson, PhD, senior lecturer in exercise physiology in the Carnegie School of Sport at Leeds Beckett, United Kingdom.

Based on this study, the specific cut-offs for predicting whole body obesity were 0.53 in men and 0.54 in women, using the waist-to-height ratio; the cut-off from abdominal obesity was 0.59 for everyone.

“I would like to think that, in time, guidelines for this measure will be applied as routinely as BMI,” says Swainson. “It’s a simple message.”

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