New System Grades Health Status of the Obese

Doctors in Canada have developed a grading system for obesity, which will be used to gauge an overweight or obese person's health risk, risk of dying and need for treatment.

The Edmonton Obesity Staging System (EOSS) assigns the obese a health score from zero to four, borrowing from systems that determine the severity of diseases such as cancer, it maps out a person's health according to their weight and related measurements such as body mass index and waist-to-hip ratio, in conjunction with specifying what weight-related health conditions they may have, such as type 2 diabetes, hypertension and heart disease.

EOSS was developed as a more in depth health analysis than calculations currently depend on, such as body mass index (BMI), which only takes into consideration a person's height and weight to determine their level of obesity and does not factor in overall health status.

"Body mass index, which is widely used to categorize and assess patients with obesity, only measures how big you are - not how sick you are," said Dr. Arya Sharma of the University of Alberta, in a statement.

In the main study, published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, researchers at the University of Alberta referred to data from a U.S. population survey of 8,143 people and used the EOSS to determine the overall health and death risk of the group, of which approximately 77 percent were overweight or obese.

Researchers concluded that a person's weight was not the primary determinant of their health or risk of death. Depending on the person, one can be heavier with less medical trouble and acquire a lower EOSS score or can be lighter with more medical trouble and acquire a higher EOSS score.

"We were surprised by how differently people accumulate [these] comorbid conditions," lead author Dr. Raj Padwal told Time, Health Land.

"You can take two patients, both of whom are obese, and one might be relatively light compared to the other. Yet that individual might have severe diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol, and may have disabling joint disease. It never ceased to surprise us."

A related study published in the journal Applied Physiology, Nutrition and Metabolism, gauged the health and death risk of 6,000 obese Americans, compared to people of normal weight.

The study detailed that patients who were graded as stage zero or one had the least health and death risk associated with their obesity, and would most likely benefit, not from losing weight, but from developing and maintaining a healthy diet and lifestyle.

Patients who were graded as stage two or three were respectively 1.5 and 2.5 times more likely to die of weight-related medical conditions during the study's follow up period, than those who scored zero or one, or those who were not obese.

Doctors say more research must be done to determine whether patients with higher grades would benefit from weight loss, but as the EOSS quantifies health risk on an individual level, there are some obese people who would benefit from weight loss more than others.