Waist Circumference and Body Mass Index Predict Body Fat and Disease Risk

Overweight and obesity, particularly in the abdominal area, are associated with a variety of health risks, including cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes. Clinical practitioners have employed waist circumference (WC) and body mass index (BMI) as measures to identify patients with elevated concentrations of total and abdominal fat. In a study of white men and women who varied widely by age and body type, Janssen et al. found that WC and BMI each independently predict the distribution of nonabdominal, abdominal, and visceral fat stores.

The subjects, 206 men and 135 women, were all healthy and varied in age from 18 to 88 years and in BMI from 16 to 48 kg/m, with a BMI of 25 considered the cutoff point between normal weight and overweight, and >30 for obesity.

In addition to body weights and waist circumferences, total, nonabdominal, and abdominal subcutaneous and visceral fat distributions were determined using whole-body magnetic resonance imaging. BMI and WC were correlated independently with fat stores, but in men, BMI was more strongly correlated with all body fat distribution than was WC.

Fat depots were also compared after a subdivision of the cohort into three BMI groups (normal, overweight, and class I obese between 30 and 35) and 3 WC (low, intermediate, and high). Within each BMI category, those in the high WC category had substantially greater abdominal fat compared to those in the low WC category. Though BMI and WC each independently predicted nonabdominal, abdominal subcutaneous, and visceral fat stores, the authors propose that BMI and WC combined better predict abdominal obesity and its associated health risks than does either variable alone.

Janssen, Ian et al. Body mass index and waist circumference independently contribute to the prediction of nonabdominal, abdominal subcutaneous, and visceral fat. Am J Clin Nutr 2002;75:683-8.

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Source: American Society for Clinical Nutrition