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Ann Acad Med Singapore. 2009 Jan;38(1):66-9.

Rationale for redefining obesity in Asians.

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Health Services Research and Evaluation Division, Ministry of Health, Singapore.



There has been extensive research on defining the appropriate body mass index (BMI) cut-off point for being overweight and obese in the Asian population since the World Health Organisation (WHO) Expert Consultation Meeting in 2002.


We reviewed the literature on the optimal BMI cut-off points for Asian populations. We searched PubMed, EMBASE, National Institute for Health Research Centre for Reviews and Dissemination (NHS CRD) Database, Cochrane Library and Google. Attempts to identify further studies were made by examining the reference lists of all retrieved articles. There were 18 articles selected for the review.


There were 13 studies which have identified the BMI cut-off points for Asian populations lower than the international BMI cut-off points recommended by the WHO. Many of the studies have recommended lowering BMI cut-off point specific for Asian populations. A few studies concurred with the recommended cut-off point for Asian populations recommended by International Association for the Study of Obesity (IASO), the International Obesity Task Force (IOTF) and the WHO in 2002. Asian populations were also noted to have higher cardiovascular risk factors than Western populations at any BMI level.


Further research would be needed to look at the all-cause mortality at same BMI levels between Asians and Caucasians in order to evaluate the BMI cut-off recommendations for Asian populations. It is necessary to develop and redefine appropriate BMI cut-off points which are country-specific and ethnic-specific for Asians. These will facilitate the development of appropriate preventive interventions to address the public health problem posed by obesity.

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