A tape measure is a better tool against obesity
Throw away your scales and burn the BMI charts. There is another way to predict health risks and it has nothing to do with weight.
A recent study from the Mayo Clinic found that weighing and calculating risks with a BMI chart is a poor predictor of heart disease. Get out the tape measure and wrap it around your middle.
Starting at the belly button, find the hip bone. Let the tape measure ride just above the hip and that is your waist. Wrap the tape around the rest of the body and read the number.
The fat stored in the belly area lies deep in the abdominal cavity and has been linked to increased levels of the stress hormone, cortisol. The more fat, the more cortisol. The more cortisol, the more heart disease, higher blood pressure and greater incidence of a stroke, diabetes, certain cancers, dementia and even urinary incontinence.
The idea of measuring the waist circumference has been around for years but new reports now suggest that it is not how much you weigh but where you carry your weight that matters most to your health. The data was the same for men and women.
Studies suggest that health risks begin to increase when a woman’s waist reaches 31.5 inches and her risk jumps substantially once her waist expands to 35 inches or more. For men, risk starts to climb at 37 inches, but it becomes a bigger worry once their waists reach or exceed 40 inches.
However, those numbers are based on averages and are not always useful for very tall or short people, children or certain ethnic groups. Comparing the waist measurement with the hip measurement seems to be better indicator of overall health risks.
Particularly for young people, the waist-to-height ratio might be a better way to predict the risks of disease. Put simply, your waist should be less than half your height.
Having a large waist for your height means you are more likely to have fat around your heart, liver and even ordinary muscles. Your organs require some fat as protection but too much fat can be dangerous. A high waist to hip ratio signals that you should be screened for other health problems, like insulin resistance and high cholesterol — particularly high triglycerides.
Losing even a small percentage of weight can have a big effect. In one study, 20 very large people were put on a very low-calorie diet. They lost an average of 20 percent of their body weight. That translated into a decrease in waist size. Inside the body, the effect was amazing. Using imaging technology, researchers found that the layer of fat around the heart shrank, causing less stress on the heart.
If you have a large waist, the first goal should be to stop gaining weight. Exercise will tone the muscles around the fat. Improving the food choices will lower your risk for heart and other problems, even if you never lose pounds or inches.
Focusing on being as healthy as you can and not obsessing about your weight is the key. Obesity management should not be about numbers on a scale. It is about improving people’s health.
Bobbie Randall is a certified diabetes educator, registered, licensed dietitian. She supervises a diabetes self-management training program at Aultman-Orrville Hospital, Orrville. Contact her at email@example.com or 330–684-4776.