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What is appropriate obesity standard for Koreans?
  • By Lee Han-soo
  • Published 2018.04.27 15:18
  • Updated 2018.04.27 15:18
  • comments 0

Korea is struggling to set a body mass index (BMI) standard for obesity as the nation’s too low measures have raised concerns of an obesity epidemic.

Earlier this month, the Korean Society for the Study of Obesity (KSSO) announced the “2018 Clinical Practice Guidelines for Obesity,” breaking down the severity of overweight into three stages instead of two.

The KSSO maintained the existing BMI for obesity, at 25 kilograms per square meter or higher. However, the guidelines added Pre-Stage at 23-24.9 kg/㎡, and divided the severity into three -- Stage 1 at 25-29.9kg/㎡, Stage 2 at 30-34.9 kg/㎡, and Stage 3 at 35kg/㎡ or higher.

However, even with the changes made by the KSSO, the obesity standards are much lower in Korea than Western countries. The BMI standard for obesity in the United States and other Western nations, including the members of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), is set at 30 kg/㎡ or more.

Korea’s somewhat low BMI index compared to other countries has led to some bizarre reports, including the Seoul Metropolitan Government’s alarming research in 2016, which stated that one in four Seoul citizens are obese.

It came in stark contrast to the OECD report in 2017, which ranked Korean obesity rate at the bottom, alongside Japan and India, with a rate of 5.3 percent.

Professor Cho Jung-jin of the department of family medicine at Hallym University Medical Center has published a report in this regard. It pointed out that when the BMI index for obesity starts at 25 kg/㎡, Korea had more obese men than the U.S., whose BMI index for obesity starts at 30 kg/㎡.

“After analyzing the ‘2009 National Health and Nutrition Survey,’ the results showed that Korea’s obese population ratio was 38.7 percent for men and 28.1 percent for women," Professor Cho wrote in her report. "The U.S., on the other hand, had an obese population ratio of 35.5 percent for men and 33.4 percent for women,”

It is hard to accept that Korea can have more obese men than the U.S., Cho added.

Cho stressed that Korea needs to change its BMI index for obesity to coincide with Western standards or at least raise the starting BMI score like Japan. Japan had recently increased its BMI obesity index from 25 to 27.7 for men and 26.1 for women, to match Western standards.

In a separate paper, Cho also said after analyzing 1.2 million Asians, including 20,000 Korean, for 9.2 years from 2005, her team found that Korean, Chinese and Japanese people have the lowest risk of death, with the BMI scale of 22.6 to 27.5.

In response to the calls for changing Korea’s obesity index, KSSO has added waist circumference as an additional criterion but made no comments on revising the BMI index.


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