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Move over, BMI -- for kids, is it time to measure the neck circumference instead?

July 5, 2010 |  1:34 am

  The body mass index (BMI) isn't a perfect measure for obesity. Convenience and routine are on its side — so health experts aren't likely to stop using it any time soon — but its limitations have got some doctors thinking … .

In a study published online Monday in the journal Pediatrics, researchers at the University of Michigan’s Mott Children’s Hospital found measurements of neck circumference to be a reliable technique for assessing whether children are overweight or obese.

Using a sample pool of 1,102 children (divided into four categories — 6 to 10 years of age and 11 to 16 years of age, male and female), the team studied the correlation of kids' neck circumference with measurements of their heights, weights and waist circumferences, as well as with their ages and BMI statistics.

The results confirmed that -- more than any other screening technique -- neck circumference was the most reliable alternative to BMI, when adjusted to a child’s age and gender. But the findings went one step further than that, said Dr. Olubukola “Bukky” Nafiu, who led the study,

Measuring neck circumference was more convenient and was more accurate than BMI at identifying children with weight problems, he said.

“The body mass index doesn’t tell you what is responsible for someone’s weight. In some cases it could all come from muscle, but your BMI could still indicate that you are overweight,” he said. The possibility of a child having an excessively muscular neck that may skew results is not a problem as it can be with adults, some of whom develop big, muscle-bound necks, he added.

Fat distribution is another problem associated with reliance on the BMI. Researchers are beginning to learn more about how fat on the body can lead to different degrees of health risks depending on the area of accumulation -- fat around the middle, in particular, is associated with raised risk for high blood pressure, diabetes and high cholesterol.. Said Nafiu, “The BMI doesn’t tell you where the fat in someone’s body is collected."

And necks?  There's a strong correlation, Nafiu says, between high neck circumference measurements and central adiposity (fat around the middle).

Nafiu believes that the defects associated with BMI measurements -- as well as the inconvenience and embarrassment for kids of clothing removal and the higher potential for error in height and weight measurements -- will lead doctors to adopt alternative methods for obesity screening in both children and adults.

“In the next few years, I believe more and more doctors will start screening for obesity and overweight using neck circumference measurements and other methods, instead of the BMI,” he said.

-- Jessie Schiewe

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Comments (8)

This is interesting to me as a Personal Trainer.
I have never heard this before.
I have started to measure my neck and other peoples. We are all laughing and saying it is pure muscle not fat! Heard that one before he he.
As a PT we measure triceps aswell as other parts of the body to get an overall fat ratio. Also, today anyone can get scales that show you your fat ration just by standing on them.
But nonetheless this is very interesting. Mike Tyson would definately be obese with his huge neck measurements.
He he he!

This business about checking neck girth for obesity reminds me of the scene in Monty Python and the Holy Grail where they're going to drown a woman to see if she is a witch! She turned me into a newt lol

Failed at reading Karen? It clearly says "for kids". Kids don't have the problem of too much neck muscle.

While the child in the photo obviously has food more on her mind than manners, the bottom half of the photo should have been cropped. I'm no Emily Post but gee whiz, it seems to me printing this photo as-is was just wrong.

I agree with Elizabeth, it's a very indecent photo. Thank goodness she wasn't wearing a skirt.

Thanks to those who raised objections to the photo. We have decided to take it down.
--Rosie Mestel

The photo is still visible on the front page.

This is really an exciting new study. As a community Pediatrician, I deal with kids having overweight every day and what I observed was young athlets with good muscle mass, to educate them why BMI don't help is hard and easy and very reliable measurements like the neck circumferance is really worth help us as Physicians and it makes alot of sense.


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