As helpful as the body mass index is for telling you if you’re overweight or obese, doctors agree that it’s not perfect. Because it measures height and weight, researchers have noted that doesn’t take into account muscle, which can push the BMI of a fit but built individual into the above normal range.
Now scientists at University of Michigan report in Pediatrics that for children, measuring the circumference of the neck may be a good stand in for BMI. In a study comparing neck measurements to BMI, the researchers confirm that among 1,102 children between age six and 18, those with bigger necks were more likely to have high BMI, lending support to the possibility that it could potentially substitute for height and weight readings. In previous studies of adults, larger neck circumference was linked to greater fat deposition around the waist – an indicator of metabolic syndrome, the constellation of conditions that raise the risk of heart disease.
While the height and weight measurements of BMI are relatively easy to make, the authors maintain that neck readings are even easier to take, since they do not require disrobing. In addition, they have the added advantage of predicting sleep apnea, another indicator of obesity in children. It’s just the first step toward finding a better substitute for BMI; additional studies will reveal if neck measurements will end up predicting the health risks of being overweight better than BMI.