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Int J Obes Relat Metab Disord. 2001 Dec;25(12):1806-14.

Differences in body composition between Tongans and Australians: time to rethink the healthy weight ranges?

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  • 1Metabolism and Obesity Services, Department of Endocrinology, Royal Prince Alfred Hospital, Camperdown, NSW, Australia.



The prevalence of obesity varies considerably between countries when compared using the common international standard. This study investigated body size and body composition in Tongan and Australian Caucasian adults.


Cross-sectional comparative study.


A total of 543 Tongans and 393 Australians.


Weight, height, waist and hip circumference, four skinfolds, midarm circumference, elbow breadth, and body composition by bioelectrical impedance using sex- and ethnic-specific regression equations.


Tongan women (mean body mass index (BMI)+/-s.e.=32.6+/-0.4 kg/m2) were larger than Australian women (BMI=25.8+/-0.4 kg/m2), with more fat-free mass (FFM; 52.2+/-0.4; 42.6+/-0.3 kg), fat mass (37.1+/-0.7; 26.6+/-0.8 kg) and percentage body fat (%fat) (40.5+/-0.4; 37.0+/-0.5%), respectively. Tongan men also had higher BMI (Tongan= 30.3+/-0.3 kg/m2; Australian=26.5+/-0.3 kg/m2), FFM (70.2+/-0.5; 62.3+/-0.6 kg) and fat mass (23.5+/-0.6; 20.7+/-0.7 kg). When compared with Australians within the same BMI range, Tongans had significantly higher FFM, elbow width, midarm muscle area and significantly lower %fat. The %fat at BMIs of 25 and 30 kg/m2 in Australian women was equivalent to the %fat found in Tongan women at 28.8 and 35.1 kg/m2, respectively. BMIs of 25 and 30 kg/m2 in Australian men corresponded with 27.5 and 35.8 kg/m2 in Tongan men. Skinfold thicknesses, waist, hip and WHR measurements suggested differences in fat distribution and body shape between ethnic groups, particularly in women.


These results suggest that the standard healthy weight ranges recommended for international use may not be appropriate standards for use in the Tongan population.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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