This study confirms the dangers of "morbid obesity," according to C. Rick Henriksen, a family physician at the University of Utah medical center. The morbidly obese are "definitely the population that we're most concerned about."
"It's showing clearly that those who are morbidly obese are not living as long," he said.
Those who are morbidly obese are also at notably greater risk for asthma, arthritis, diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol than those who are in the normal or overweight range, according to the Utah Health Status update.
Henriksen works with people trying to lose or gain weight and regularly works with patients who have questions about their body mass index. While BMI paints a clearer picture of a person's weight and health compared to just weight, it falls short of being the definitive measurement, he said.
"It's not as conclusive as people had maybe thought," he said. "BMI is just one marker of being overweight."
A more common measurement being used is the hip-to-waist ratio, which measures the amount of fat around the waist compared to the amount around the hips. Slightly more accurate than this are calipers. One of the best measurements is the BodPod system, he said. Located throughout the body, for $35, this pressurized system can measure body fat percentage and muscle mass.
"Those are probably better indicators," he said.
According to Ashwell, body shape measures health better than BMI. Ashwell and colleagues argued that waist-to-height ratios more accurately detect risk for diabetes, hypertension and heart disease, in a March 2012 peer-reviewed article in Obesity reviews.
Her website features a chart where people can gauge whether their waist to height ratio falls within a healthy range.
"Staying healthy is more than just your weight," Henriksen said.
BMI is helpful for identifying those who are morbidly obese, which is where most of the health risks lie, he said.
People who are in a healthy weight range, are overweight or obese, need to ask themselves if they are fit, can lift weight, can run or hike if they need to.
Perkins recommends talking to a physician and understanding that BMI may be higher is someone who has more muscle mass.
For those who are not yet embracing a healthy lifestyle, she said, it is not to late to start making changes.
"Be active try and eat right. There's a difference between eat donuts all day and eating vegetables and lean meats and fruit."
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