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Menopause Corner
Menopause Corner

Wendy Hoffman blogs about menopause and women's health—particularly focusing on how diet and nutrition can positively affect a woman's life around the age of menopause.

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The Basics of Body Fat

There was a time when all we needed to know about our body weight was what a simple bathroom scale revealed. No matter how tall we were or how big our waist, if it was past a certain number, it was time to diet.

Now,there’s widespread interest in parsing that number to show how much of our body weight is from fat or solid muscle and, to take it a step further, where fat is located on your body. Is it around your waist, or maybe in your thighs?

Are you an apple or a pear? What’s your BMI? Do you know your HTW ratio? How about your ABSI score? However you measure and categorize your body fat, it’s important to know what kind and how much fat we’re carrying around.  

Here’s why: people with an apple-shaped body  that is, people with a lot of belly fat  are at a higher risk for cardiovascular disease, Type 2 diabetes, and hypertension  than those whose hips and thighs are wider than their shoulders, making them pear-shaped. That’s because belly fat includes visceral fat, which lies deep inside the abdomen, surrounding internal organs. An excessive amount of visceral fat produces hormones and other substances that can raise blood pressure, alter cholesterol levels, impair the body’s ability to use insulin, and cause inflammation which in turn leads to clogged arteries.

So, it’s possible that you can be at a normal weight, but still be at risk for diseases if your waistline is bigger than it should be.

That’s why the Body Mass Index (BMI), which estimates body fat based on your height and weight, is considered too limiting. It doesn’t take into account people who have a strong muscular build (such as athletes) or those who have lost muscle due to age or illness.  

For this reason, most medical professionals today consider the waist-to-hip (WTH) ratio a better way to predict which people are most vulnerable to fat-related health conditions such as Type 2 Diabetes, heart attack and hypertension. It’s easy to calculate: just divide the circumference of your waist by the circumference of your hips. For women, the ratio should come out as no more than 0.8. For men, it’s .95.  

But wait, there’s more...

A team of researchers have developed a new body fat measurement tool that they say more accurately predicts whether a person is at risk for premature death. It’s called “A Body Shape Index” or ABSI. Rather than measuring body size, like the BMI tool, it takes body shape into consideration. It evaluates three things in a relatively simple way: height, weight and waist circumference.

It may not seem so simple to a lay person, though. 

You first take your waist circumference (in centimeters) and divide that by the product of two variables. The first is the square root of your height (in centimeters): the second is the square of the cube root of your BMI.

Really? I hope there’s an easy app for that.



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About the Author

Wendy writes about women's health in midlife.