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The Body String Test

The Body String Test

Using nothing more than a piece of string, you can now quickly determine what kind of shape you're in. It doesn't require any complicated math, no tricky physical moves and the results are immediate.

Start with a piece of string and measure your height. Then take the string and fold it in half. Now try to wrap the string around your waist. If it fits, you're probably doing well. If you can't touch the ends of the string together, you should look into reducing your waist size.

I like to call it the Body String Test.

The Body String Test was developed by researchers at Oxford Brookes University in the United Kingdom. What they found was that more traditional methods of measurement like Body Mass Index (BMI) tended to miss people at risk.

For example, someone with a low body fat but high muscle mass, might be considered overweight or obese on the BMI scale, but they're actually healthy. When you put on muscle, the stomach tends to shrink, but your weight can go up. BMI just looks at the total weight, not what that weight is composed of. Using the Body String Test, those people with greater muscle mass no longer show as obese.

BMI also misses people who carry a lot of fat in their midsection. You've seen them, they have skinny arms and legs, but they also have a gut. People who carry a lot of fat in their midsection, are at greater risk of heart disease, Type 2 diabetes and an early death. With the Body String Test, a large belly will immediately get flagged so you know you have to take action.

Ten percent of the total population and more than 25% of the people who have an acceptable weight on the BMI scale are at risk because they have a central fat distribution. To keep relying on BMI as a primary tool to screen people, would mean tens of thousands would be missed because they might not consider themselves at risk.

There's a great long-term study being conducted called the Health and Lifestyle Survey or HALS. Using a representative and random sample of the British population, researchers have data on more than 7,000, starting from 1985. Since 2005 more than 2,000 deaths have been recorded. Researchers found the Body String Test to be a more sensitive predictor of mortality than BMI for both men and women.

Cardiovascular disease and diabetes aren't the only concerns. People who have a larger waist are also at greater risk for dyslipidemia, hypertension and stroke.

To make sure the results were valid for everyone, the researchers looked at data from, "more than 26 studies covering men and women in many ethnic groups including white European, South Asian, Afro Caribbean and Hispanic. The ages of subjects in these studies ranged from 18 to 100 years..." The results were consistent throughout all the studies.

Age was also a consideration. When using BMI, there is a different formula for people under 20. Surprisingly, the simple message "Keep your waist to less than half your height" wound up being valid for children too, because their waist circumference expands as their height increases with age.

The Body String Test does have flaws. Someone with a small frame may be able to get the string around their waist, but still carry too much fat around their midsection. The fat may be distributed around major organs, which increases your mortality risk. For an even more fine-tuned assessment, you can measure yourself using something called the waist-to-hip ratio. 

The big advantages of the Body String Test are that it's simple, fast and cheap. It's also better than the more cumbersome BMI test at predicting who's at long-term risk.

None of these tests should replace standard tests or advice given by a medical doctor. Simply consider it another tool to see if you're in the kind of shape that's healthier. How well did your string fit?

Study Link:

A link to the study is here: BMC Medicine - 'A proposal for a primary screening tool: ‘Keep your waist circumference to less than half your height’

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