Until now, BMI – body mass index – has been considered a cornerstone of good health.
But now, experts have shunned the dated health calculating system and have called for it to be replaced with a more accurate measure.
New research, presented at the European Association for the Study of Diabetes (EASD) in Sweden, has revealed that waist-to-hip ratio (WHR) is a stronger predictor of overall health than BMI.
According to researchers from Ireland and Canada, WHR better predicts development of diseases and early death.
This is because WHR calculates how much fat someone is storing around their stomach.
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Whereas BMI calculates your overall weight and doesn’t take into account where fat is stored.
Mr Irfan Khan, a medical student at the University College Cork, Ireland who carried out the research said: “Someone who has accumulated fat around their waist will have the same BMI as someone of the same age and height who stores their fat around the hips, despite the health risks of abdominal fat.”
“As a result, BMI doesn’t reliably predict risk of disease or mortality,” he added.
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The research, which involved looking at health records of over 25,000 people, found that the risk of an early death was lowest among those with the lowest WHR and steadily increased with higher WHR.
Meanwhile, BMI was not such a good measure for early death.
It found that those with an extremely high BMI and extremely low BMI were more at risk of dying young.
How to measure your waist-to-hip ratio
Your waist to hip ratio is one of several measurements your doctor can use to see if you’re overweight, and if that excess weight is putting your health at risk.
You can work out your waist to hip ratio by dividing your waist circumference by your hip measurement.
Take a tape measure and wrap it around the smallest part of your waist, usually just above your belly button, to get your waist measurement.
Then do the same for your hips.
Then divide your waist measurement by your hip measurement to get your hip to waist ratio.
For example, if your waist is 32 inches and your average hip measurement is 40 inches, then your waist to hip ratio is 0.8.
A ratio above 0.85 for women or 1.0 for men is a sign of obesity and therefore at greater risk of cancer.
The researchers called for health bodies to replace BMI with WHR as a simple measure of a healthy weight.
Mr Khan said: “Clinical recommendations and interventions should prioritise setting healthy WHR targets rather than general BMI targets.
“A more accurate measure of a healthy body shape may make a significant difference to the ill health and deaths caused by type 2 diabetes, heart disease, some cancers and numerous other conditions.”
Professor Nick Finer, a senior principal clinical scientist at UCL said: “It has been long known that the waist-hip ratio is more closely associated with mortality than body mass index, and for this reason is included in guidelines for the assessment and management of overweight and obesity.
“However, there is a problem about relying on the waist-hip ratio as a measure of obesity severity, because it changes little with modest weight loss and so does not necessarily reflect health improvements as a result of obesity treatments that lead to weight loss.
He added: “While mortality is of course important, for many people living with obesity it is everyday symptoms such as painful joints, breathlessness, mood changes and being stigmatised that really impact on quality of life and may relate better to weight rather than fat distribution.”
Previously, have discovered a link between a person’s body shape and the type of disease they are likely to get.
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They found women with a high hip-to-waist ratio were at greater risk of developing ER- (oestrogen receptor negative) breast cancer.
This type of breast cancer is harder to treat as it doesn’t respond to hormone therapies.