Other Health Indicators, Off the Scale

Tuesday, March 7, 2006

You'd prefer a personal health indicator that doesn't leave you naked and vulnerable? Try these:

Body mass index (BMI) is a "reliable indicator of total body fat, which is related to the risk of disease and death," according to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI).

For adults, a BMI of less than 18.5 is considered underweight; 18.5 to 24.9 is normal weight. A BMI of 25 to 29.9 is overweight; 30-plus is obese, according to NHLBI.

BMI can overestimate the amount of body fat in people with muscular builds. And it can underestimate body fat in older people or others who have lost muscle mass, reports NHLBI.

Calculate your BMI online at: http://www.cdc.gov/nccdphp/dnpa/bmi/calc-bmi.htm .

Waist circumference Abdominal fat has been tied to increased risk of diabetes, metabolic syndrome and other obesity-related diseases. People with apple-shaped bodies carry most of their fat around their upper body and will have larger waists than those with pear-shaped bodies, who carry most of their fat around their hips, thighs and lower body, states the Mayo Clinic.

More than 35 inches around in women and over 40 in men means increased health risk, says the Mayo Clinic, especially for those with a BMI of 25 or higher. Healthwise, reports the Mayo Clinic, "it's better to have the shape of a pear than the shape of an apple."

Waist-to-hip ratio (WHR) A November study in The Lancet showed WHR to be a better predictor of heart attack risk than BMI. To calculate WHR, use a tape measure to determine your waist at its smallest point and your hips at their widest. Divide the first number by the second: For men, a healthy WHR is under 1.0; for women, it's under 0.8, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. The higher the ratio, the higher the health risk.

-- January W. Payne

© 2006 The Washington Post Company