Suggested BMI Cutoff Adds to Obesity Epidemic

Man weighing himself | Image by rawpixel.com/Freepik

Obesity may be even more prevalent than previously thought, with millions potentially added to this category thanks to a newly recommended BMI cutoff.

Worldwide obesity rates recently hit 1 billion, making it one of the most significant public health problems to date. Carrying excess fat can heighten a person’s risk for an array of diseases and conditions, such as type 2 diabetes, dementia, certain types of cancer, heart disease, and more.

Thankfully, many actors have stepped up to this growing challenge by, for instance, expanding insurance coverage for federal workers or by offering low-cost programs to increase access to costly weight loss drugs.

However, some experts question whether obesity rates are being underreported, leaving many unaware of their condition and delaying potentially life-saving medical interventions.

A 2022 study from Italy looked at a group of adults between the ages of 40 and 80. Although only 38% of male and 41% of female participants had a BMI above 30 — the standard clinical definition of obesity — these shares ballooned when their body fat percentages were calculated using scans. In reality, 71% of males and 64% of females were obese based on their body composition.

The cutoff points for fat percentages vary by age and sex. For individuals between the ages of 40 and 59, women are considered obese if they have 40% or more body fat, and men if they have 28% or more body fat. Between the ages of 60 and 79, the threshold increases to 42% for women and 30% for men.

Since accurate readings of body fat percentages can be expensive, the researchers in this study suggested lowering the threshold for obesity to a BMI of 27.

“Establishing this new BMI cut-off point in clinical settings and obesity guidelines will be beneficial to the potential health of millions of older adults,” Antonino De Lorenzo, co-author of the paper and professor of human nutrition at the Tor Vergata University of Rome, told the BBC.

“We need a simple tool to screen for obesity that can be available for anyone,” agreed Marwan El Ghoch, another co-author of the study and a professor of clinical nutrition at the University of Modena and Reggio Emilia, per the BBC.

BMI, a measure that estimates a person’s body fat percentage based on a height and weight calculation, has been criticized as an inaccurate tool. Nevertheless, it is arguably an easy way for a person to assess his weight, alongside what some suggest may be an even better screening device — waist circumference. According to the CDC, excess abdominal fat is problematic because it considerably increases a person’s risk for an obesity-related negative health outcome.

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