If you want an indicator of your health, stop obsessing over the scale and start looking at your midsection.
A new study in the journal Frontiers in Public Health says that being overweight isn’t the biggest problem for individuals living in developed countries.
Being “overfat” is.
In fact, the new research states that up to 90 percent of adult males and 50 percent of children in developed countries could be classified as overfat. In addition, up to 80 percent of women in some places fall into this category.
Overfat refers to an excessive amount of body fat that can impair health. It even applies to individuals who, according to the body mass index (BMI) scale, could be considered normal.
And there’s an easy indicator to tell if you’re overfat. If you waist is more than half your height, then you qualify.
Talking about fat
Overfat isn’t a new term in the medical world, but it certainly isn’t one that is used with the same frequency as overweight.
The study’s researchers argue that being wary of fat is far more significant than just weight itself.
“BMI is not a measure of body fat, and we’ve sort of been pushing the fat issue in the closet. We don’t want to talk about fat,” said Dr. Phil Maffetone, a well-known health expert and coach who was lead author of the paper.
“We’ll talk about weight, and everything in our society is weight based,” he told Healthline. “Weight is not a significant number. It’s the fat that’s the problem, when there is a problem.”
BMI is the go-to ratio for doctors and clinicians to know if a patient is healthy for their age. A simple glance at a chart will say that, based on an individual's age and height, approximately how much they should weigh.
Part of its allure is its simplicity. BMI doesn’t require any special testing or equipment to use or understand. Just glance at the chart.
“Because of all the studies that use BMI, we never got around to doing a lot of body fat percentage in terms of research,” said Maffetone.
However, the scale has been deemed imperfect because it doesn’t distinguish between body composition. A short, athletic individual could be deemed obese on the scale, even though the weight is due to muscle, not fat.
“We’ve gotten caught up in this bad habit of measuring BMI and as a result, we get a lot of misinformation. From a clinical standpoint we miss a lot of serious conditions because we use BMI,” said Maffetone.
It’s all about diet
Researchers argue that being overfat, not overweight, increases risk factors for significant and widespread health conditions.
Those include blood sugar elevation (diabetes), blood pressure elevation (hypertension), and cholesterol elevation (heart disease).
It’s not an exercise issue either. The overfat epidemic is all about what you eat.
“It’s not simply because our body fat content is too high. It’s when body fat gets too high, the fat cells change. They become pathological and they promote inflammation and insulin resistance, to name two things in that early stage of disease,” said Maffetone.
As for why the overfat epidemic is happening now: It’s all about diet.
“It’s not that we’re not exercising, in fact we’re exercising more than ever,” said Maffetone. “At the same time as the exercise rates have increased, so have the overfat rates. The problem is food, not that we’re not exercising.”
So how do you know if you’re overfat?
Maffetone explained that there is a simple calculation that you can do at home, but first grab a tape measure.
Take your height in inches; an average height of 5 feet 10 inches is equal to 70 inches. Next, measure your waist at navel level (around your belly button). If your waist measurement is more than half of your height, you qualify as overfat. A 5-foot-10-inch individual should have a waist measurement of 35 inches or less.
“It’s a very, very simple, very, very accurate recommendation,” said Maffetone.
While most people are keenly aware of their height, they should also be aware of their waist measurement, taking it once a month or so.
There are other, more complex and accurate ways to determine body fat percentage, including DEXA scans and hydrostatic weighing, but these procedures can be expensive and hard to come by.
Maffetone’s simple, at-home measurement will tell you if you’re overfat or not.