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Times of India
03 April 2010
By Pratibha Masand
Mumbai, India

A Google search for Body Mass Index will throw up more then 66 lakh entries. By simply keying in your weight and height, you will know whether you are underweight, normal, overweight or obese. But now, doctors in India believe that there should be different parameters for Indians.

For instance, while the BMI cut–off for a Caucasian woman to be considered obese and undergo metabolic surgery is 30–the figure is 35 for men–it should be lowered for Indians. Blame it on the fat. Dr Muffazal Lakdawala, a bariatric surgeon at Saifee Hospital, explains the logic in a paper published in the Obesity Surgery Journal. “Among Indians, the genetic makeup is such that they have more fat mass than muscle mass. Also, most Indians have what we call the ‘thin fat baby syndrome’, where, even though they look thin, they are actually fat,” said Lakdawala.

“For Indians, the normal BMI limit should be set between 20 and 23. Anything above this, may be a cause of danger,” said Dr Ramen Goel, bariatric surgeon from Bombay Hospital. Most international BMI calculators indicate normal as anywhere between 18.5 and 24.9.

Even fat percentages vary among Indians and Caucasians. According to doctors, Indians tend to have fat deposits in ‘incorrect areas’.

“The average Caucasian tends to have fat under the skin. Among Asians, fat mass is known to get deposited in internal organs. These deposits tend to cause many more problems such as diabetes, high cholesterol, hypertension and even cardiac problems,” said Dr Lakdawala.

Meanwhile, in a paper presented at the European Obesity Experts Meeting in March 2010, Dr Shashank Shah, bariatric surgeon in Hiranandani Hospital, suggests that not only must BMI cut–offs for Asians be lowered, but also different parameters be taken into consideration for measuring obesity. “Take for example, an Indian and a Caucasian, both having a BMI of 22. But the Indian is likely to have at least 5% more body fat than the Caucasian,” said Dr Shah, adding that 20–22% fat should be considered normal for Indian women, while 7–15% is normal for men.

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