Ted Kyle Discusses BMI as a Diagnostic Tool for Obesity

While body mass index is a good indicator for obesity, there are various other factors and clinical symptoms that need to be taken into account when diagnosing and treating a patient for obesity, explained Ted Kyle, RPh, MBA, principal at ConscienHealth.

While body mass index (BMI) can be a good indicator for obesity, there are various other factors and clinical symptoms that need to be taken into account when diagnosing and treating a patient for obesity, explained Ted Kyle, RPh, MBA, principal at ConscienHealth.

Transcript (slightly modified)

How much should BMI be taken into account when a patient is being diagnosed and treated for obesity?

BMI is one of these complicated things that is on the surface very simple. It’s a very useful screening tool, but when people think that BMI is the same thing as obesity, they’re mistaken. BMI is no more equivalent to obesity than a fever is to an infection. It’s a good sign. It’s a good easy sort of way to look for whether there might be a problem but obesity is really the excess of adipose tissue that accumulates and causes harm to health.

That excess visceral adipose tissue can be present at a fairly low BMI and actually cause quite a problem with health. It is more common at a high BMI, which is why BMI is used for a screening tool, but it’s only good as a screening tool. It’s not a diagnostic tool.

Can BMI be different among various ethnic groups?

Right, the cut points for different ethnic groups is different according to BMI. Again, BMI is just a rough indicator. What really matters is metabolically, how much metabolically active adipose tissue has accumulated around the visceral organs and how much is that harming health. There’s something called the Edmonton Obesity Staging System, which is a way of combining BMI with other clinical indicators to really give a good assessment of what someone’s disease state is.