The study by Sheffield Hallam University used 10,000 3D human body scans from Leipzig University in Germany and found they contained additional valuable information that could be used to identify potential health problems more effectively.
Researchers at Hallam’s £14m Advanced Wellbeing Research Centre say traditional measurement techniques do not fully represent the complex shape of the human body.
It means, following further research, body shape could be used by practitioners to more effectively assess the risk of type 2 diabetes and other common weight-related health concerns.
BMI or Body Mass Index provides a traditional measure of relative obesity and classifies individuals into four categories – underweight, normal weight, overweight and obese – however it is unable to identify several health risk factors, such as the ratio of fat to lean tissue and distributions of fat around the body.
Waist girth is also commonly used in health assessments and, while the World Health Organisation (WHO) has suggested combining this measure with BMI to improve identification and treatment, the study finds this approach does not fully account for the complex variations in human form.
Dr Michael Thelwell, research fellow at Sheffield Hallam and author of the paper, said: “The human body is a complex 3D structure, and yet, across clinical practice we reduce this complexity down to simple measures such as body height, or waist girth, this is no longer fit for purpose.”
The aim of future work will be to further investigate the underlying causes of variations in human body shape and develop simple but effective tools to assess 3D body shape. Studies will evaluate the benefits of improved body measurements in medical applications, such as obesity classification and epidemiology.
Dr Simon Choppin, associate professor in advanced human measurement at Sheffield Hallam and lead for the group researching 3D body shape added: “Our work has shown that extra information can be obtained by measuring the shape of the human body. If this information can be used to improve things like health assessment, we hope to create fast and effective tools that can help people that have been let down by the limitations of the body mass index.”