By Jennifer Cockerell, Press Association Health Correspondent
Researchers have developed a new method of estimating body fat levels in children in a bid to tackle obesity and prevent cardiovascular problems in the future.
Body Mass Index (BMI) is currently used to determine levels of body fat and obesity levels, but there are concerns that it can be misleading as the weight measure does not distinguish between lean and fat tissue.
Experts also use waist circumference (WC) as a measurement as this can change according to obesity levels and can be an indication of cardiovascular disease risk factors in children.
Researchers from the University of Wolverhampton trialled a new measurement index which they said combines the systems of height, mass and waist circumference to provide a simple, meaningful and more accurate index associated with percentage body fat.
Compared to using BMI and WC in isolation, they believe it could provide a more effective and equally non-invasive estimate of body fat percentage in children that can be used in public and community health settings.
Their study is the first to suggest this combined approach and the findings have been published in the journal Pedriatric Obesity.
Lead researcher and biostatistics specialist Professor Alan Nevill said: “Figures suggest that up to a third of children across Europe are classified as overweight or obese.
“Despite its considerable shortcomings, BMI has historically been used to assess weight status, although it underestimates the extent of the obesity prevalence.
“A move to incorporate measures of waist circumference into BMI is logical as measures of centralised obesity are likely to increase the ability and sensitivity of BMI in detecting cardiovascular and cardiometabolic disease.
“This research could pave the way for improving interventions aimed at preventing or treating diseases or conditions associated with excess body fat, including cardiovascular disease, liver disease and type 2 diabetes.”
Nearly 6,000 children from the UK and Portugal were tested with the new proposed index.
Work has begun to assess whether the combined waist circumference and BMI index is equally effective with adults.