Beyond BMI: Conceptual Issues Related to Overweight and Obese Patients

Obes Facts. 2016;9(3):193-205. doi: 10.1159/000445380. Epub 2016 Jun 10.


BMI is widely used as a measure of weight status and disease risks; it defines overweight and obesity based on statistical criteria. BMI is a score; neither is it biologically sound nor does it reflect a suitable phenotype worthwhile to study. Because of its limited value, BMI cannot provide profound insight into obesity biology and its co-morbidity. Alternative assessments of weight status include detailed phenotyping by body composition analysis (BCA). However, predicting disease risks, fat mass, and fat-free mass as assessed by validated techniques (i.e., densitometry, dual energy X ray absorptiometry, and bioelectrical impedance analysis) does not exceed the value of BMI. Going beyond BMI and descriptive BCA, the concept of functional body composition (FBC) integrates body components into regulatory systems. FBC refers to the masses of body components, organs, and tissues as well as to their inter-relationships within the context of endocrine, metabolic and immune functions. FBC can be used to define specific phenotypes of obesity, e.g. the sarcopenic-obese patient. Well-characterized obesity phenotypes are a precondition for targeted research (e.g., on the genomics of obesity) and patient-centered care (e.g., adequate treatment of individual obese phenotypes such as the sarcopenic-obese patient). FBC contributes to a future definition of overweight and obesity based on physiological criteria rather than on body weight alone.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Absorptiometry, Photon
  • Adult
  • Body Composition / physiology
  • Body Mass Index*
  • Body Weight
  • Electric Impedance
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Obesity* / diagnosis
  • Obesity* / physiopathology
  • Overweight* / diagnosis
  • Overweight* / physiopathology
  • Phenotype
  • Risk Factors