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Centre for Health Economics and Policy Analysis


Research examines inadequacy of BMI to determine health risk

05 May 2011

New research showing that the use of body mass index (BMI) as a measure of body fat substantially underestimates the percentage of the population at greater risk of poor health will be discussed at the CHEPA monthly seminar on May 18.

Sisira Sarma from the University of Western Ontario will share the findings of a research study that looked at the extent to which BMI misclassifies individuals into different health-risk groups in the seminar entitled Does it matter how obesity is measured in social science literature? Some new findings from Canada.

The underlying concept of obesity in the medical literature refers to excessive amounts of body fat, and in social science literature excess fat has typically been assessed using BMI. However, BMI does not distinguish fat from fat-free mass, and can therefore be an inadequate measure to assess health risks. Canadian guidelines for determining obesity recommend the use of additional measures, such as waist circumference and five skinfold measures, in conjunction with BMI to accurately assess health risks associated with obesity.

Sarma’s research used data from the Canadian Health Measures Survey conducted by Statistics Canada to compare the results from five distinct measures of obesity in classifying health risk. Results indicate that a substantially smaller percentage of people are at greater risk of fair/poor health according to BMI-based measures than other measures such as waist circumference, skinfolds and body composition.

The seminar will take place from 12:30 to 1:30 p.m. in CRL-B119. All are welcome to attend. For those unable to attend, this link to Elluminate will provide the audio feed and show the slides from the presentation.

Sarma is a health economist and assistant professor in the Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics in the Schulich School of Medicine and Dentistry at UWO. He holds a Career Scientist Award from the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care, and conducts research in the areas of health economics and econometrics, cost-effectiveness, health policy and health services research.

He has a PhD in economics from the University of Manitoba, and a master’s of philosophy degree in economics from Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.

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