What does ABOI mean and and is it better than BMI?

What is ABOI, what does it mean and what does it stand for?

In case the title of this post sounds like gobbledygook to you, let's clear up what both of these acronyms mean. If you struggle with your weight, you may well have already heard of BMI but you probably haven't heard of ABOI.

What does BMI mean?

Your BMI, or Body Mass Index, is a convenient 'go-to' way to calculate if your weight is considered healthy or not. In short, a BMI calculator will give you the conclusion simply by inputting your weight and height. The number you get will give you a result ranging from underweight to morbidly obese. According to the NHS, a satisfactory BMI for most adults would range from 18.5 to 24.9.

Although this is seen as a useful tool, there are several factors that can skew the BMI result. For example, muscle is heavier than fat so if you're a bodybuilder with plenty of muscle, you may still get a result of obese, despite being perfectly healthy. Similarly, things like your ethnic background and bone density can affect the result too.

What does ABOI Stand for?

Seen as a similar way to measure whether your weight is healthy or not, ABOI is an acronym for Abdominal Obesity Index and, according to the boffins at the Hackensack Meridian School of Medicine in New Jersey, USA, your ABOI may be a better way to calculate obesity and could also give a more accurate indication of the risk of heart disease, diabetes, and dyslipidemia.

Leader of the study, Dr Zhiyong Han, suggests that the advantage of calculating a person's ABOI is in its simplicity of focusing mainly on your abdominal fat irrespective of your overall body weight, shape, and height. To crunch the numbers, all you need to do is measure your belly at its fattest (B) and then measure around your chest (C). With these two numbers, you times B by itself (B²) and C by itself (C²) and then divide B² by C² (B²/C²). If that seems a tad complicated, let's look at a real-life example:

Tabloid confusion over the results

Popular tabloid newspaper, The Sun, gives the following example of a man with a belly of 39 inches and a chest of 42 inches. The article lays out (39x39) divided by (42x42) and comes up with an ABOI of 1.15. However, according to our calculation, they've got the answer wrong:

39x39 = 1521
42x42 = 1764

Therefore, 1521/1764 = 0.86 (ABOI) and not 1.15 as The Sun claims in the article.

Anyway, moving on...

Aside from the resulting ABOI number (and indeed, what it even means!), the study claims that:

"Although BMI (body mass index) has been widely used to determine whether an individual is underweight, normal weight, overweight, or obese, its clinical usefulness for obesity study has been called into question because it does not specifically describe body fat content and distribution and has limited relevance to central obesity, which is most relevant to health risks. Although imaging techniques are used to determine central obesity, they are expensive and are thus not used in a routine physical examination of patients in medical offices"

More specifically, the ABOI doesn't concern itself with whether you're “apple-shaped” or “pear-shaped” but instead focuses on what it calls "central obesity".

The results and conclusion

In the experiment, 282 people ranging from 20 to 90 years of age were selected from a community health centre in Beijing, China and the results concluded that "ABOI appears to be a more specific measure of central obesity than BMI".

Will ABOI replace BMI in the future?

Whether or not organisations such as the NHS use or recommend ABOI over BMI in the future remains to be seen. If they do, we'll all hopefully be able to agree on the maths!

Note: The study linked to in this blog was published under the Open-Access License under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International Public License (CC-BY 4.0). It permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.

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