SEP 04, 2018 6:19 AM PDT

Measuring Body Fat: BMI Is Not All There Is

When looking at overall health, weight is a consideration. Obesity is on the rise and is a significant public health concern. Being overweight raises the risk for diabetes, cardiovascular disease and some forms of cancer. Body Mass Index (BMI) is how health professionals assess obesity. Researchers at Cedars-Sinai have come up with what they feel is a better measure of weight as it relates to obesity.

Study leader, Orison Woolcott, MD, of Cedars-Sinai, explained, "We wanted to identify a more reliable, simple and inexpensive method to assess body fat percentage without using sophisticated equipment. Our results confirmed the value of our new formula in a large number of subjects: Relative fat mass is a better measure of body fatness than many indices currently used in medicine and science, including the BMI."

While the BMI the standard, it's not that accurate because it doesn't distinguish between bone, muscle, and excess fat. It's all mass. BMI also varies by gender. Women tend to have more body fat than men, but for them it's necessary. The team at Cedars came up with a better formula called relative fat mass index (RFM.) It's a simpler formula than BMI and needs only height and waist circumference measurements. The researchers crunched a significant amount of data and examined more than 300 methods to assess body fat. A CDC database of 12,000 healthy adults who participated in a nutritional survey was used to test the formulas.

In the next phase of the trial, 3,500 patients out of the database had their RFM calculated and then underwent a sophisticated body scan called a DXA, which is the gold standard of estimating the mass of bone, muscle, and fat. The calculations for the RFM for these patients was almost precisely that of the results found by the DXA scan.

Richard Bergman, Ph.D., the senior author of the study and director of the Cedars-Sinai Sports Spectacular Diabetes and Obesity Wellness and Research Center explained, "The relative fat mass formula has now been validated in a large database. It is a new index for measuring body fatness that can be easily accessible to health practitioners trying to treat overweight patients who often face serious health consequences like diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease. You don't need a bathroom scale to determine your relative fat mass, just a measuring tape."

If you want to calculate your own RFM, you take your height measurement and then, with a measuring tape, measure the circumference of your waist, right at the top of the hip bone. Once you have those measurements, use the formula below.

For men: 64-(20 x height/weight) So, for a man who is 6'3" and has a 36-inch waist would have an RFM of 22.4 For a woman who is 5'7" with a waist size of 29 inches would have an RFM of 29.8. The formula is still being tested in larger groups, but with almost 40% of the population in the US classified as overweight, a better measurement could spur patients to stay on track with healthy eating and a fitness regimen. Check out the video to hear more about it.

Sources: Cedars Sinai Scientific Reports

About the Author
  • I'm a writer living in the Boston area. My interests include cancer research, cardiology and neuroscience. I want to be part of using the Internet and social media to educate professionals and patients in a collaborative environment.
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