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Does BMI matter?

Is BMI an accurate way to assess a person's overall health and predict problems down the road?
BY STEPHEN PRESCOTT AND ADAM COHEN For The Oklahoman Published: July 23, 2013

Adam's journal

As part of our wellness initiative at the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation, we've begun offering all employees free biometric screenings. Biometric screening, a term that was new to me until recently, is a sort of quick assessment that covers a variety of tests and measurements that serve as basic indicators of your health. I recognized many of these tests and measurements — blood pressure, cholesterol, blood glucose levels, body mass index — from my annual physical exam.

At OMRF, we've had extremely high levels of participation in the screenings. That's great news, as it signals that our employees care about their well-being and are eager to get an accurate picture of their physical health.

Not surprisingly, the screenings have also provoked a good deal of discussion, particularly about body mass index, or BMI. Several people have questioned whether BMI is an accurate way to assess a person's body fat levels. Others have wondered if it's a good predictor of future health. I didn't know the answers, so I figured I'd ask you.

Dr. Prescott prescribes

BMI is computed by taking a person's weight in kilograms and dividing by the square of his or height in meters (don't worry — there won't be a quiz). More simply put, it's a ratio of a person's height to weight that serves as a rough proxy of body-fat percentage.

Under current guidelines, anyone with a BMI 25 or more is considered overweight, while 30 or above qualifies as obese. A 2007 U.S. National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey found that 67 percent of Americans met the definition of overweight or obese.

So what does this mean?

Research has found that overweight and obese individuals are at a higher risk for a wide variety of health problems, ranging from hypertension and osteoarthritis to type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease and stroke. They also have higher rates of disability.

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