SINGAPORE: Asians may look thinner than Westerners but they have more fat in their bodies, health experts told a World Health Organisation (WHO) forum yesterday. Obesity is less of a problem in Asia compared with the West, but Asians experience higher cases of obesity-related diseases, they said.
For example, Singaporeans have 5% more body fat than Caucasians, said Mabel Yap, director for research and information management at Singapore''s Health Promotion Board.
"What this means is, we are fatter though we look thinner," she said.
The latest National Health Survey in 1998 found that only 6% of Singaporeans were obese, compared with 5% in 1992.
But the number of Singaporeans with obesity-related diseases was comparable to levels in the West.
While those with diabetes remained at 8%, 27% suffered from high blood pressure while 23.5% had high cholesterol levels, according to the 1998 survey.
"These rates are high when compared to sufferers in similar developed countries," Yap said.
WHO officials met in Singapore to discuss whether Body Mass Index (BMI) is an appropriate indicator of health risks and the possible cut-off points for different regions in the world.
The experts agreed that BMI, which is obtained by dividing weight in kilo- grams by the square of height in metres, is not an appropriate gauge of a person''s health risk because it only measures weight in relation to height.
The standard cut-off for obesity is also too generic for nations across the world with people of different ages, genders and races, they said, citing data from 10 Asian countries.
Prof Shiriki Kumanyika, of the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine who chaired the meeting, said "body fat distribution is not covered in the BMI".
Potbellies are a concern as "abdominal fat is a worldwide problem" and people with wider waist circumferences are found to be more prone to obesity-related diseases, the experts said.
So far, only fat in abdomens is found to be a health risk, said Paul Durenberg, WHO''s nutrition consultant.
"Fats stored in thighs are not known to cause health problems," he added.
Durenberg attributed the obesity problem to "urbanisation, lack of physical activity and greater opportunities for fast foods and fatty foods". - AFP