'One size fits all' BMI index may be wrongly applied by doctors for ethnic groups, says NICE

Some minorities could miss out on treatment for weight-related conditions such as diabetes

Black, Asian and other minority ethnic groups may be missing out on treatment for weight-related conditions such as diabetes because doctors wrongly using a “one size fits all” obesity measure, NICE has said.

Body mass index (BMI), which divides your weight by your height, is used to indicate whether people are a healthy weight.

However, new guidelines from NICE say that the BMI might have been applied wrongly to minority ethnic groups, whose threshold should be lower because of their increased risk of type 2 diabetes and other weight-related conditions.

Professor Mike Kelly, director of the Centre for Public Health at NICE said: “The point at which the level of body fat becomes risky to health varies between ethnic groups. Healthcare workers should apply lower thresholds to people from black, Asian and other minority ethnic groups than to those of white European descent.”

Excess body fat contributes to more than half of type 2 diabetes cases, one in five heart diseases and is also a major risk for many cancers.

Professor Kelly said that the number of people affected by such health conditions was far greater among ethnic minority groups in the UK - despite rates of obesity being similar to the white population.

People from minority ethnic groups with a BMI of 23 should be considered at the same risk of type 2 diabetes as white people with a BMI of 25, he said.

More research will be needed before revised BMI figures for other weight-related diseases are determined, but the threshold could be even lower.

Catherine Law, professor of public health and epidemiology at University College London, who led the group that drew up new guidance for healthcare workers, said: “: ”There is clear evidence that people from black, Asian and other minority ethnic groups are at a higher risk of diabetes than white populations with the same BMI and waist circumference values - six times higher among South Asian groups. The disease also tends to develop at a younger age and progression is faster.“

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