A new tool to calculate belly fat; a medical memoir recalls years in training

04/15/2014 12:00 AM

08/08/2014 10:23 AM

Most people know that BMI, or body mass index, is a fitness indicator calculated using your height and weight. Most people also know (don’t you?) that where you carry your weight makes a difference: It’s less healthy to have a disproportionate amount of weight around your midsection.

The April issue of O magazine features a calculator aimed at factoring that belly fat, as well as your age, into the equation and assessing your relative risk of premature death. Called A Body Shape Index, or ABSI, it was developed by a father-and-son team – Jesse Krakauer, an endocrinologist, and Nir Krakauer, an assistant professor of civil engineering at City College of New York – in 2012, but it hasn’t gotten a lot of national attention.

The formula, which involves such complicated steps as calculating BMI, then raising it to the two-thirds power, can be found in the July 2012 issue of the journal PLOS One, where the authors also explain why they think it is a useful estimate of mortality risk. If you’d rather skip the science-speak, go to www-ce.ccny.cuny.edu/nir/sw/absi-calculator.html and plug in your age, height, weight and waist measurement. If the “Relative risk, BMI+ABSI” comes out as 1, that puts you at average risk of premature death for someone your age; less than 1 indicates less risk and greater than one means … well, you might want to start doing some crunches.

E-Cigarettes claims debated

A fair amount of conversation about e-cigarettes has involved people using them in efforts to quit smoking. Researchers say the evidence for that has been “unconvincing,” and they suggest that regulations should forbid such claims until there is supporting research.

In a letter recently in the Journal of the American Medical Association Internal Medicine, researchers from the Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education and the Department of Medicine at the University of California-San Francisco noted that e-cigarettes are “aggressively promoted as smoking cessation aids.”

Electronic cigarettes, or e-cigarettes, are battery-operated; they heat substances that usually include nicotine to deliver a vapor for inhalation that often also contains flavors (fruit, bubble gum and others). Unlike conventional cigarettes, there’s no tar or carbon monoxide. It’s estimated to be a $2 billion business. Supporters say they’re safer in public than conventional cigarettes.

Detractors say that they are a means to make smoking socially acceptable again and that they target young people.

Among the studies the researchers cited was a trial comparing e-cigarettes (with and without nicotine) with a nicotine patch. That study found no differences in rates of quitting over six months, they wrote in the journal. Another study said that, although 85 percent of e-cigarette users said they were using them to quit, they did not quit more frequently than people who didn’t use e-cigarettes.

In their own study, the researchers surveyed 949 smokers and found that use of e-cigarettes at the start of the study did not predict quitting a year later. And among those who smoked at the start and a year later, use of e-cigarettes was “not associated with a change in cigarette consumption.”

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