Aborigine study suggests body mass index guidelines should be lower to block diabetes

CHAPEL HILL -- The recommended upper limit of a healthy body mass index (BMI) -- the term doctors and others use to indicate how much people weigh for how tall they are -- might need to be revised downward to protect people from becoming glucose intolerant or developing type 2 diabetes, a new University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill study suggests.

Conducted with information gathered from 2,626 aborigines in remote parts of Australia, the study also suggests doctors should recommend lower BMIs for some groups than for others. Whites, for example, appear to be somewhat less sensitive to the unhealthy effects of excess weight than blacks and various indigenous populations around the world.

A report on the findings appears in the June issue of the journal Diabetes Research and Clinical Practice, which has just been published. Lead author is Dr. Mark Daniel, assistant professor of health behavior and health education at the UNC School of Public Health.

"We calculate people's body mass index by dividing their weight in kilograms by their height in meters squared," said Daniel, also an assistant professor of epidemiology. "The resulting number, which is considered to range from 20 to 25 in healthy people, is a better indicator of how much extra weight a person carries around as fat than their weight alone because, obviously, people of the same ages and weights vary considerably in height."

In the new study, Daniel worked with Drs. Kevin Rowley of the University of Melbourne, Robyn McDermott of the Tropical Public Health Unit of Queensland Health in Cairns and Kerin O'Dea of the Menzies School of Health Research in Darwin. They examined Australian aborigines in 15 remote settlements since diabetes and the impaired glucose tolerance (IGT) that precedes it have grown as health threats almost worldwide. Areas studied ranged from central desert regions of the Outback to lands subject to tropical monsoon rains in the north.

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Contact: David Williamson
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

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