Background: Body mass index (BMI) has been used widely among clinicians to assess obesity in their patients due to its ease and availability. However, BMI has some diagnostic limitations and other measures related to health risks; in particular, body shape may be of greater relevance to health outcomes.
Objective: The objective of this study was to illustrate the importance of body shape assessments above and beyond BMI and its relationship to health risk among a sample of African-American and European American women.
Methods: African-American and European American women aged 19-78 years (n = 552) in Birmingham, Alabama, were recruited and stratified by menopausal status (ie, pre- or postmenopausal). Pictorial body shapes were derived from digital photographs, while body fat distribution defined by android-gynoid ratio (AGR) and body composition were obtained from dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry.
Results: Images of BMI and age-matched women illustrate variability in fat distribution. Among both menopausal status groups, more than 50% of women had a pear body shape (AGR < 1). An apple body shape was associated with higher odds of having diabetes (unadjusted odds ratio [OR]: 4.1, 95% confidence interval [CI]: 1.9-9.3), hypertension (unadjusted OR: 3.1, 95% CI: 2.0-4.7), and high cholesterol (unadjusted OR: 3.0, 95% CI: 1.8-5.1).
Conclusion: Use of visual cues alongside traditional methods of weight status assessment may help to facilitate weight management conversations between physicians and female patients. However, next steps should include the validation of visual assessments of body shape in women for use by physicians.
Keywords: BMI; body shape; fat distribution; visual representation; women.