The U.K. government has questioned whether its own one-size-fits-all approach to the recommendations for ‘health,’ Body Mass Index, is ethnically biased.
The Body Mass Index (BMI) is a measure for human body shape based on an individual's mass and height. The idea came about in the Victorian era; however, it is only in the last couple of decades that the use of BMI as a measure of healthy weight compared with obesity has become widely used (in addition to a raised waist circumference). Essentially BMI provides a simple numeric measure of a person's thickness or thinness, allowing health professionals to discuss overweight and underweight problems with patients. In general, the recommended ‘healthy’ BMI for the majority of people is between 18.5 and 25.
Although the BMI has been used by many national governments as a general measure for the population, the U.K. governmental body, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), has now suggested that a "one-size-fits-all" approach to BMI analysis is misguided. According to the Independent the current measure does not take into account physiological differences between Caucasians and people from Black, Asian and other minority ethnic groups.
On this basis NICE is recommending that the universal measure of BMI be reconsidered. This is because some research suggested that the point at which the level of body fat becomes risky to health varies between ethnic groups, with ethnic minorities being more susceptible to apparent BMI associated conditions such as type-2 diabetes and heart disease.
Discussing the implications for the medical community, Professor Mike Kelly, director of the Center for Public Health at NICE, is quoted as saying in a press statement that: "Healthcare workers should apply lower thresholds to people from black, Asian and other minority ethnic groups than to those of white European descent."
Whether this recommendation leads to a change to government policy and a corresponding change to the measures used by healthcare professionals remains to be seen.