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Am J Clin Nutr. 2010 Apr;91(4):1020-6. doi: 10.3945/ajcn.2009.28589. Epub 2010 Feb 17.

High adiposity and high body mass index-for-age in US children and adolescents overall and by race-ethnic group.

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  • 1Centers for Disease Control Prevention, Hyattsville, MD 20782, USA.



Body mass index (BMI)-for-age has been recommended as a screening test for excess adiposity in children and adolescents.


We quantified the performance of standard categories of BMI-for-age relative to the population prevalence of high adiposity in children and adolescents overall and by race-ethnic group in a nationally representative US population sample by using definitions of high adiposity that are consistent with expert committee recommendations.


Percentage body fat in 8821 children and adolescents aged 8-19 y was measured by using dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry in 1999-2004 as part of a health examination survey.


With the use of several different cutoffs for percentage fat to define high adiposity, most children with high BMI-for-age (> or = 95th percentile of the growth charts) had high adiposity, and few children with normal BMI-for-age (<85th percentile) had high adiposity. The prevalence of high adiposity in intermediate BMI categories varied from 45% to 15% depending on the cutoff. The prevalence of a high BMI was significantly higher in non-Hispanic black girls than in non-Hispanic white girls, but the prevalence of high adiposity was not significantly different.


Current BMI cutoffs can identify a high prevalence of high adiposity in children with high BMI-for-age and a low prevalence of high adiposity in children with normal BMI-for-age. By these adiposity measures, less than one-half of children with intermediate BMIs-for-age (85th to <95th percentile) have high adiposity. Differences in high BMI ranges between race-ethnic groups do not necessarily indicate differences in high adiposity.

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