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Am J Clin Nutr. 1999 Jul;70(1):131S-136S. doi: 10.1093/ajcn/70.1.131s.

Validity of the body mass index as an indicator of the risk and presence of overweight in adolescents.

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Institute for the Study of Youth Sports, Michigan State University, East Lansing, and the Department of Kinesiology and Health Science, York University, North York, Canada.


The validity of the body mass index (BMI) as an indicator of the risk of becoming overweight and of the presence of overweight was evaluated in 6 groups of adolescents comprising several ethnic groups (n = 1570, aged 9-19 y). With use of triceps skinfold thickness and estimated percentage body fat as the criteria for adiposity, BMI had high specificities (86.1-98.8% for risk of overweight and 96.3-100% for presence of overweight) and lower but variable sensitivities (4.3-75.0% for risk of overweight and 14.3-60% for presence of overweight). Thus, almost all adolescents who were not at risk for overweight or who were not overweight were classified correctly. In contrast, many adolescents who were at risk of overweight or who were overweight were not correctly identified as measured by BMI. Partial correlations, controlling for age, between BMI and the triceps skinfold thickness and estimated percentage body fat were generally moderate to moderately high, whereas BMI and triceps skinfold thickness appeared to be equally related to estimated total body fatness and percentage body fat in Mexican American and Austrian white males. BMI was better correlated with trunk skinfold thicknesses, but when relative subcutaneous fat distribu-tion was statistically controlled, the trunk-extremity contrast in the correlations was no longer apparent.


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