WASHINGTON — The federal government is reducing its threshold for defining who is overweight, determining that someone who stands 5-foot-4 and weighs 145 pounds is hefty enough to harm their health.
In guidelines to be formally released later this month, a panel of experts convened by the National Institutes of Health concluded that a person with a body mass index as low as 25--5-foot-4, 145 pounds or 5-foot-10, 174 pounds--should be considered overweight.
Anyone with a body mass index of 30 or above is obese, according to the guidelines, which were released in part Wednesday by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. That translates to a 6-foot person who weighs 221 pounds or a 5-foot-6 person who weighs 186 pounds.
Body mass index is a way of measuring body weight, in relation to height, and is closely linked to a person's body fat.
Using those new guidelines, about 97 million American adults--or about 55% of the population--would be considered overweight or obese, the heart institute said.
In previous studies, another government agency, the National Center for Health Statistics, has said that a woman with a body mass index of 27 or a man with a BMI of 28 is overweight. And dietary guidelines released by the federal government in 1996 defined anyone with a body mass index of 26 or above as overweight.
That same standard--a body mass index of 26--was used by outside researchers in a widely publicized report issued last week. Under that definition, about 54% of the population would be considered overweight.
In addition to measuring body mass index, the guidelines advise doctors to measure their patients' waist circumference, a measurement closely associated with the amount of abdominal fat and another predictor of disease risk.
A waist circumference of more than 40 inches in men and more than 35 inches in women indicates an increased risk in people who have a body mass index from 25 to 34.9, the researchers say.
To determine body mass index, divide body weight (in kilograms) by height (in meters) squared. A kilogram equals 2.2 pounds. A meter is 3.28 feet or about 39 inches.