The results of a new study urge healthcare providers to account for body fat distribution, in addition to body mass index, in their decision to screen people for diabetes and prediabetes.
Body mass index (BMI) is a traditional measurement that divides a person’s weight by their height to find out whether they have a healthy weight.
However, increasing amounts of studies have been questioning its usefulness and accuracy as an indicator of cardiometabolic health.
The distribution of fat, rather than the total amount, these studies suggest, may give us more clues about the risk of conditions such as insulin resistance, high blood pressure, heart disease, and even cancer.
For instance, a recent study drew attention to the “overfat pandemic” that is spreading across the United States. The researchers used the term overfat to describe the accumulation of fat around certain parts of the body, which, the scientists point out, is not accounted for by BMI.
In fact, a low BMI may be misleading. Belly fat is particularly harmful, research shows, with some studies showing that it can raise the risk of diabetes and heart disease while others reveal the mechanisms behind this association.
Now, a new study — which has been published in the journal BMJ Open — adds to this growing body of research, as researchers from the University of Florida (UF) in Gainesville discover that people with a normal BMI but high body fat are more prone to prediabetes or diabetes, when compared with people deemed overweight according to their BMI but have a lower body fat percentage.
Body fat percentage calculates the proportion of a person’s fat mass to their lean muscle mass.
For this study, the scientists — led by Ara Jo, Ph.D., a clinical assistant professor in the Department of Health Services Research, Management and Policy at UF — examined data available from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey.
This survey was carried out by the National Center for Health Statistics of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and it used interviews, as well as physical and laboratory tests, to examine the health of adults aged 40 and above between 1999 and 2006.