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What Your BMI Doesn’t Tell You

BMI's Drawbacks continued...

People of Indian descent are at highest risk, according to Atkinson. "The standard definition of overweight is a BMI of 25 or above. But if you're from India, your risk of diabetes starts going up with a BMI of about 21 or 22," he says.

In contrast, many African-Americans may have high BMI measures, but no associated health risks. Compared to whites with the same weight and BMI, African-Americans tend to have less visceral fat (fat around their organs) and more muscle mass, Atkinson says. Therefore, an African-American person with a BMI of 28, which the standard chart defines as overweight, might be as healthy as a white person with a BMI of 25.

Beyond BMI

So, what other tools or indicators can you use besides BMI? You may want to get out your measuring tape.

  • Waist size: For an accurate measurement, the tape measure should encircle your waist at the top of your hip bones in your lower back and go around to the belly button. To help prevent health problems from being overweight, men should keep their waist size to no more than 39 or 40 inches; for women, no more than 34 or 35 inches. Again, there are some racial differences: Asian men should keep their waists no more than 35.5 inches; Asian women, no more than 31.5 inches, according to the Joslin Diabetes Center.
  • Waist-to-height ratio: This compares your waist measurement to your height. It may be even more helpful than waist circumference alone, Kahan says. The goal is for your waist circumference to be less than half of your height.
Reviewed on May 13, 2014

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