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Obesity (Silver Spring). 2010 Sep;18(9):1821-6. doi: 10.1038/oby.2009.472. Epub 2010 Jan 14.

Variations in BMI and prevalence of health risks in diverse racial and ethnic populations.

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National Center for Health Statistics, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Hyattsville, Maryland, USA.


When examining health risks associated with the BMI, investigators often rely on the customary BMI thresholds of the 1995 World Health Organization report. However, within-interval variations in morbidity and mortality can be substantial, and the thresholds do not necessarily correspond to identifiable risk increases. Comparing the prevalence of hypertension, diabetes, coronary heart disease (CHD), asthma, and arthritis among non-Hispanic whites, blacks, East Asians and Hispanics, we examine differences in the BMI-health-risk relationships for small BMI increments. The analysis is based on 11 years of data of the National Health Interview Survey (NHIS), with a sample size of 337,375 for the combined 1997-2007 Sample Adult. The analysis uses multivariate logistic regression models, employing a nonparametric approach to modeling the BMI-health-risk relationship, while relying on narrowly defined BMI categories. Rising BMI levels are associated with higher levels of chronic disease burdens in four major racial and ethnic groups, even after adjusting for many socio-demographic characteristics and three important health-related behaviors (smoking, physical activity, alcohol consumption). For all population groups, except East Asians, a modestly higher disease risk was noted for persons with a BMI <20 compared with persons with BMI in the range of 20-21. Using five chronic conditions as risk criteria, a categorization of the BMI into normal weight, overweight, or obesity appears arbitrary. Although the prevalence of disease risks differs among racial and ethnic groups regardless of BMI levels, the evidence presented here does not support the notion that the BMI-health-risk profile of East Asians and others warrants race-specific BMI cutoff points.

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