You’re probably familiar with the term body mass index, or BMI. In a nutshell, it’s a formula that compares your weight to your height.
There are tons of calculators online that allow you to plug in your weight and height and do the math for you, but regardless of how you get to the final number BMI has its flaws. First, there is a range for what’s considered to be a “normal” BMI, a result between 18.5 and 24.9. For a woman who’s 5’4” that means a weight anywhere between 108 and 145 pounds, a fairly large difference. Also, BMI doesn’t tell you anything about where you’re carrying your weight. That’s key because numerous studies indicate that carrying excess belly fat, or being apple shaped, is more risky for your health, than being bottom heavy, or pear shaped.
That’s why researchers at City College of New York developed a new formula they call A Body Shape Index. When the researchers took data from a US sample of over 14,000 non-pregnant adults, crunched the numbers, and compared them with mortality rates for the same group, they found some interesting results. High death rates were correlated with both low and high BMI, but ABSI predicted premature death regardless of other factors like age, sex, ethnicity, and smoking (smokers weigh less than people who don’t smoke cigarettes). In other words, even if you’re young with a normal BMI, you may be at greater risk of dying sooner, if you carry more weight in your midsection relative to your height and weight.
For years, the National Institutes of Health has encouraged tracking waistline measurements and they've cautioned that a value of more than 35 inches for women and 40 for men is tied to a greater risk of several diseases including heart disease and diabetes. ABSI takes that one step further, by putting waist circumference in perspective with weight and height. Even if your waist isn’t greater than 35 inches, it may be too thick for your frame, and that information can help you take action sooner.
I haven't found an online ABSI calculator yet, but stay tuned. And if you’re interested in information about what you can do to shrink your waistline, here are five science-based strategies tied to less belly fat, along with previous posts to help you put them into action:
Eat plant-based fats at every meal (this easy four meal a day plan plan builds them in, including delicious belly fat blasting options like almond butter, avocado, extra virgin olive oil, and coconut oil)
Eat more fruits that fight belly fat (they're in season now!)
Eat whole, not refined grains (fun ways to expand your whole grain horizons)
Consume more vitamin D (it's tied to a lower weight and waistline)
Eat more dark chocolate! (could there be a better way to whittle your middle?)
Cynthia Sass is a registered dietitian with master's degrees in both nutrition science and public health. Frequently seen on national TV, she's a SHAPE contributing editor and nutrition consultant to the New York Rangers and Tampa Bay Rays. Her latest New York Times best seller is S.A.S.S! Yourself Slim: Conquer Cravings, Drop Pounds and Lose Inches.