Body mass index (BMI) can be a helpful tool in determining some aspects about health, but it has its limitations. The measurement isn’t always accurate about estimating weight, especially in individuals who are particularly muscular or lacking in muscle tone. BMI calculations aren’t very reliable when it comes to predicting diabetes and heart disease, either. There are much better measurements for tracking true health. In fact, it's advised that we don’t rely on BMI to determine whether we're at risk for diabetes or heart disease. Let's look at some much better options.
BMI Versus Hip-Waist Ratio
The World Health Organization (WHO) recognizes the value of measuring BMI, which estimates the percentage of body fat a person has by comparing their height and weight. However, officials have found that a person’s waist-hip ratio (WHR) is a far more telling measurement for weight-related issues like diabetes and heart disease. You can calculate yours by measuring the circumference of your hips. Divide your waist measurement by your hip measurement for the number.
Healthy WHRs can vary between ethnic groups, but on average, women should strive to stay below 0.80, and men should keep theirs below 0.95. The higher your number, the higher your chances are of suffering from numerous obesity-related diseases. A high WHR can also increase your risk of developing certain types of cancer, including breast cancer (in post-menopausal women) and colon cancer.
Blood Sugar Levels
Out-of-control blood sugar levels can damage numerous parts of the body, including the kidneys and eyes. In severe cases, it can even lead to coma and death. Insulin resistance is a huge risk factor for type 2 diabetes, and it can also contribute to the development of heart disease, polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), breast cancer, rheumatoid arthritis and fatty-liver disease.
You can have your doctor test your blood sugar when you go in for a routine check-up. Normal fasting blood sugar levels will fall below 100 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dl). A reading of up to 125 mg/dl indicates prediabetes, while anything 126 mg/dl or higher is diagnostic for diabetes. For non-fasting blood draws, a reading of 200 mg/dl or higher is also diagnostic.
High cholesterol is a huge risk factor for cardiovascular disease. This is because excess amounts of “bad” LDL cholesterol can build up inside blood vessel walls, contributing to atherosclerosis, or narrowing and hardening of the arteries. Blood clots can block those narrow, less elastic pathways, which can cause a heart attack or stroke. A healthy total cholesterol reading is anything below 200 mg/dl for all adults. Men should also have their “good” HDL cholesterol above 40 mg/dl, whereas women should have HDL readings of at least 50 mg/dl.
Blood Pressure Readings
High blood pressure can be a silent killer because you often have no symptoms until damage has already been done. Left unaddressed, high blood pressure can lead to heart attack, stroke, kidney failure and eye issues. Blood pressure is measured by two numbers.
The first number is the systolic blood pressure, which is the amount of pressure in your arteries when your heart beats. The second number is your diastolic blood pressure or the pressure between beats. They’re measured in millimeters of mercury (mm Hg) on the blood pressure meter dial.
According to the American Heart Association, readings below 120/80 mm Hg are considered healthy. Even slightly elevated numbers can impact health over time, so it’s important to keep tabs on this number, even when you feel healthy.
That BMI can be a good number to know, but it might not tell us that much about overall health unless it's also combined with other measurements. Remember, when it comes to diseases like diabetes and heart disease, early detection can be a lifesaver. Monitor these more accurate measurements to stay as informed as possible and take action before serious complications arise.