You've heard time and time again that the number on the scale isn't necessarily the most accurate indication of your overall health. But is your body mass index (BMI), the most commonly used measure of body fat, really any better? According to new research published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, it might not be — but there's another number you should be keeping an eye on instead.
For the April 2017 study, researchers from the United Kingdom and Australia teamed up to analyze data on the body composition and mortality of more than 42,000 men and women over the course of 10 years.
What they found? People with "normal" BMIs (aka BMIs that fall between 18.5 and 25) but a high waist-to-hip ratio (anything above 0.85 for women or 0.9 for men) were 22 percent more likely to die — from any and all causes — during the course of the study. People who were obese (aka people with a BMI of 30 or higher) with a high waist-to-hip ratio also had greater chances of dying than their normal-waisted counterparts.
But here's where things start to really get interesting: People who were obese according to their BMIs but had a normal waist-to-hip ratio did not have an increased risk of death, despite being overweight. This suggests that maybe, instead of worrying so much about your BMI, you might want to focus more on your waist-to-hip ratio (aka your "central obesity" levels) instead.
There are limitations to this study, including the fact that participant BMIs and waist-to-hip ratios were only measured once during the 10-year study, which researchers say might have skewed the results. But these findings back up previous studies that have found a link between excess belly fat and higher mortality rates — not to mention that this April 2017 study is the largest on the subject to date.
The moral of the story? It might be worth it to pay a little more attention to the extra pudge around your middle. If this research is any indication, your waistline might be where weight loss counts most.