Obesity epidemic has swept across nations, age groups and sex against which people strive incessantly. The world has witnessed an alarming rise in obesity levels paving way for numerous health risks. But, researchers, scientists and physicians are still bothered by the one vital question-what defines obesity, especially in post-menopausal women whose body composition is drastically different from the rest of the women population. A couple of decades back, NIH (USA) decided to bring down BMI cutoff point for defining overweight from 27 to 25. Despite this, obesity rates and waist circumference measurements amongst people in the United States continued to rise sharply. Since then, it is only now that another team of researchers have come up with a requisition to bring down BMI cutoff points ever lower for postmenopausal women. This is mainly because wrongly assuming overweight postmenopausal women to be of normal weight can sometimes even obstruct physicians from starting such people on treatments for reducing obesity-related health problems, especially cancer and cardiovascular disease.
Decades back, physicians made use of weighing scales to measure up a person’s health based on his/her weight. Now, the scales are same, but the results vary categorizing people into different sectors based on BMI values. The word ‘BMI’ became an instant hit among the common man as it enabled you and me to realize our health status and take definite precautionary steps to save our health. Body Mass Index (BMI) is an estimate of body fat based on weight relative to height. Despite its popularity, people in the medical fraternity doubt the reliability of this measure on older adults as it does not take into account the location of body tissue used for storing fat, fails to differentiate between fat mass and lean mass nor bothers to include variations in body composition. These variations become even more conspicuous once a woman experiences physical changes in the postmenopausal stage such as redistribution of body fat tissue, decreased muscle mass and height and increased weight, especially around the abdomen.
WHO’s decision to introduce BMI as a one-size-fits-all solution to classify people might really not work practically. While it can be a measure for calculating population-based overweight and obesity (as BMI values are common for both sexes and corresponds to all age groups), it can never be used for determining body composition of an individual accurately as every individual has varying fat stores inside.
Weight Remains Constant But Fat Percent Changes
‘Where’ fat is located plays a great role in determining health despite BMI’s ignorance of the body shape of a woman (individuals with a pear-shaped body whose fat stores are concentrated in the hips and thighs are treated in the same way as those with an apple-shaped body whose fat predominantly resides in the midsection). A group of researchers collected information from more than 1,300 postmenopausal women aged between 53 and 85 years. The study group defined obesity as a BMI of 30 or higher or a body fat percentage greater than 35%.
Women lose greater bone and muscle mass as they grow old and these are heavier than fat. Hence, a lady who weighs the same as she weighed two decades back must probably account for more fat-induced weight compared to bone and muscle weight. Even fat distribution does not remain the same as it used to be during her previous years. The woman possesses more visceral fat (riskier type that is associated with higher total cholesterol, low-density lipoprotein and insulin resistance) in the abdomen compared to subcutaneous fat stores. The research team found that most women who had a BMI lesser than 30 had body fat percentage values greater than 35% or more. There is no denial that men too account for some portion of visceral fat in their body but the increase in this type of fat stores is drastic in the case of women. A woman starts with lesser visceral fat stores compared to a man but between her 25th and 65th birthday she loses around 6 kilograms of bone and muscle mass while her visceral fat stores increase by four-folds. In contrast, a man’s visceral fat stores only double between the same age bracket.
Some researchers feel that moving BMI range even further might cause panic among postmenopausal women and even discourage them greatly. It’s not a small deal to ask a postmenopausal woman to lose 9-13 kilograms suddenly. Rather, these women should focus on a healthy lifestyle which includes daily physical activity and a well-balanced diet regimen. If you are confused about your calcium and vitamin nourishments needed post-menopause, get in touch with a registered dietitian nutritionist at www.firsteatright.com. Any woman whose waistline does not change much over the years and does her exercises regularly can stay devoid of BMI fears and fat deposits. While it might seem favorable to lower BMI cutoffs for obesity in postmenopausal women, there are no strong evidences portraying their advantages strongly.
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Dietitian & Nutritionist Dr. Nafeesa Imteyaz.