Follow me on

Does BMI Underestimate Adiposity in Kids?



sharma-obesity-kids-scale2Regular readers are well aware of my reservations regarding the use of BMI as a diagnostic parameter in clinical practice. After all, while BMI may tell us how big someone is, it certainly is not a good measure of how sick someone is.

But to be honest, BMI was never intended as a measure of disease – it was (at best) introduced as a surrogate measure of adiposity (fatness).

Nevertheless, supporters of BMI continue to argue that it is still a good measure of fatness and as such should remain part of standard assessment – even in kids.

Now, a paper by Javed and colleagues, published in Pediatric Obesity, examines how well BMI performs as a means to identify obesity as defined by body fatness in children and adolescents.

The authors conducted a systematic review and meta-analysis of 37 studies in over 53,000 participants assessing the diagnostic performance of BMI to detect adiposity in children up to 18 years.

While the commonly used BMI cut-offs for obesity showed showed a high specificity (0.93) to detect high adiposity, the sensitivity was much lower (0.73) – particularly in boys.

This means that kids who exceed the current BMI cut-offs are indeed very likely to have fatter bodies (for what it’s worth).

On the other hand, relying on BMI cut-offs alone will miss as many as 25% of kids whose body fat percentage exceeds current definitions of adiposity.

Thus, assuming that bod fatness or adiposity is indeed a clinically useful measure of health, the use of BMI alone will ‘underdiagnose’ adiposity in a significant proportion of kids (especially boys) who may well be at risk from excess fat.

A word of caution about fatness is certainly in order – as in adults, much depends on exactly where the fat is located (abdominal or ectopic vs. subcutaneous) and other factors (e.g. cell size, inflammation, insulin sensitivity, etc.).

Thus, even if BMI was a perfect measure of body fat, it would probably still require further examinations and tests to determine exactly whether or not this “extra” fat poses a health risk.

As in adults, a clinical staging system similar to the Edmonton Obesity Staging System may be a fat better indicator of determining which kids may need to worry about their body fat and which don’t.

@DrSharma
Edmonton, AB

Hat tip to Kristi Adamo for pointing me to this study

ResearchBlogging.orgJaved A, Jumean M, Murad MH, Okorodudu D, Kumar S, Somers VK, Sochor O, & Lopez-Jimenez F (2014). Diagnostic performance of body mass index to identify obesity as defined by body adiposity in children and adolescents: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Pediatric obesity PMID: 24961794

.

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published.