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Why Body Mass Index classification for Indians is different from the west

BMI is an attempt to quantify the amount of tissue mass (muscle, fat, and bone) in an individual, and then categorize that person as underweight, normal weight, overweight, or obese based on that value. It is the most accepted way of classifying a person overweight/obese

The cut-off values defined for the western population have been found to be inaccurate for Indians or people of Indian subcontinent. This is because Indians have higher percentage of body fat, especially abdominal fat, at lower or similar BMI levels as compared to white Caucasians.

Therefore lower BMI cut-offs define various categories of body weigh for Indians, as per WHO and Indian medical experts alike

WC (Waist Circumference)

Central or abdominal obesity is in itself a health risk factor, even for people who are overall not obese. In Indians, this form of obesity is especially predominant and predisposes to metabolic syndrome. Waist Circumference (WC) is the measurement needed to ascertain whether you have central obesity or not. Again, the WC cut-offs for WC for Indians are different from western populations

To measure WC: Use a flexible tape measure. Start at the top of your hip bone, then bring the tape measure all the way around, level with your belly button. Make sure it’s not too tight and that it’s straight. Don’t hold your breath while measuring

BMI classification and ranges for Indians vis-a-vis the west

The BMI chart below shows the Indian cut-offs in comparison to the international ones, for BMI and WC

BMI chart for classification of overweight and obese in Indian Population BMI WC in Centimetres: For men/women WC in inches
Underweight BMI for Indians<18 Internationally BMI<18.5
Normal BMI for Indians




<78 cms for Indian men/72 cms for Indian women (Internationally <102 cms for men/88 cms for women) <30.7 /28.3
Overweight BMI for Indians




>= 78/72 >=30.7 /28.3
Obese BMI >25  for Indians

BMI>30 internationally

>= 90/80 >=35.4/31.4
Drug treatment for obesity*  
                If other lifestyle diseases/risk factors present BMI >25 for Indians (27 internationally)
                If no other risk factors >27 (30)
Surgical treatment for obesity*
                If other life-style diseases/risk factors present >32.5 (35)
                If no other risk factors >37.5 (40)

* First and most important intervention is life style management, these cut-offs are best  discussed with your doctor, if you are unable to  lose or keep your weight by lifestyle modifications

CHECK OUT: Our references for recommendations on weight management

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Also read:

Health risks of obesity

How to lose weight in a healthy way