Circumference of our waist, not BMI, may be the best single measure of obesity

Ratio of height to waist size predicts risk

TAMPA - If you've been to the doctor lately, you were probably asked to step on a scale to calculate your B.M.I. or body mass index.  But for a growing number of doctors, a simple tape measure is a much better tool with which to measure your risk from being overweight.
Having performed thousands of weight loss surgeries, director of USF's Bariatric Center at TGH, Dr. Michel Murr is an expert on fat and the damage it causes.

And while stepping on a scale is the first step to calculating the widely used BMI, it's no longer considered by many doctors to the best.

"It doesn't tell us if most of the weight is coming from muscle, mass or anything else," says Dr. Murr.

Murr says the science shows not all fat is equal. The kind that accumulates around the belly and surrounds the vital organs acts differently than fat on the limbs or beneath the skin.

"That's one of the more dangerous kind of fat because it produces diabetes, hypertension, high cholesterol and brings on multiple ailments," said Murr.

That's why comparing the circumference of a person's waist to their height is now considered to be  better predictor of diabetes, stroke, heart attack cancer and death than the BMI which doesn't account for muscle mass or distribution of weight.

By some estimates, Arnold Schwarzenegger in his body building prime would have been borderline obese under the BMI standard.   And though  the tape measure may tell doctors more than the scale, the waist to height ration will still only just one of many tools used to evaluate our health.  

"It's an indicator that something is not right. We have to pay attention, but it does not tell us the whole story,"  said Murr.

Guidelines are still be studied, but under this newer system, you should strive to keep the circumference of your waist in inches less than half of your height in inches. For a six foot man or woman, that would mean keeping the waist measurement below 36 inches.

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