Obesity: The Neck Says It All

Neck circumference appears to be a better measure of the health risks posed by being overweight than the currently used waist measurement, researchers found.

Obesity researchers often use " apples" and " pears" as descriptors when referring to body types, with people whose excess weight is distributed to make them an "apple" having the greater health risks.

A study shows they may need to find a new fruit.

Neck circumference may be a better metabolic risk factor than waist measurement, says Kaumudi Joshipura, BDS, MS, ScD, of the Center for Clinical Research and Health Promotion at the University of Puerto Rico in San Juan, and colleagues, and was published in the Journal of Diabetes Research.

The researchers recruited 1206 participants from the San Juan Overweight Adults Longitudinal Study (SOALS). They report, “Individuals with high and normal neck circumference were similar in age and gender,” and that the mean neck measurement for men was 42.0 and form women it was 36.1. Additionally, 16% of those with high neck circumference were smokers, compared with 22% of those with normal neck circumference.

The authors say, “As expected, the group with high neck circumference had higher BMI, waist circumference, and body fat percent.” They add, “The percent of individuals with prediabetes, hypertension, and metabolic syndrome were higher among the group with high compared to normal neck circumference.” Those with normal neck measurements were generally more physically active than those with higher measurements.

One of the more important findings of the research, according to the researchers, is that “compared to traditional anthropometric measures such as BMI, waist circumference, and body fat percent, neck circumference showed higher positive associations with prediabetes and higher inverse association with HDL-C, independent of major confounders.” They suggest that neck measurement are superior to waist measurement because it is simpler to perform, and neither clothing nor last meal has any effect on neck measurement.

The researchers conclude that “Neck circumference may be an important marker of central adiposity and perhaps of visceral adiposity and an important risk indicator of metabolic factors.” They add that no expensive or sophisticated test is necessary to obtain neck measurements, meaning it may be more useful in primary care clinics than more complex measures.