Medical Research: What is the background for this study? What are the main findings?
Dr. Bea: The analysis was based on a subgroup of the largest study of post-menopausal women in the United States, Women’s Health Initiative (WHI), which has been answering important questions about health and wellness among post-menopausal women since the 1990s. In the analysis, body mass index, a proxy for body fat, and actual body composition (i.e. fat and muscle mass) determined by an imaging technique called dual energy X-ray absorptiometry (DXA) were used to predict risk of death. In the younger post-menopausal women, aged 50–59 years, higher body fat increased risk of death by more than 2 times and the highest muscle mass decreased risk of death by almost 60%. Importantly, the relationships were reversed among the older women, aged 70–79 years (P < 0.05). These results were true in spite of BMIs in these groups spanning nearly the full range of possible BMIs (16.4–69.1kg/m2). These data indicate that BMI does not estimate mortality risk as well as we would hope among post- menopausal women.
Medical Research: What should clinicians and patients take away from your report?
Dr. Bea: Clinicians should consider obtaining body composition information from DXA instead of relying solely on body mass index (BMI, weight/height2) to assess risk of death among post-menopausal women and to determine if interventions are warranted.
Medical Research: What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this study?
Dr. Bea: This analysis of post-menopausal women needs to be repeated in other populations, such as men, different age groups, and different racial/ethnic groups, to better understand if body composition assessments are prudent in other groups.
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Jennifer W. Bea, PhD (2015). Is Lean Always Better? Body Fat and Mortality Not Linked In Older Women