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Am J Hum Biol. 1999;11(2):167-174.

Human body composition: A review of adult dissection data.

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Department of Experimental Anatomy, Vrije Universiteit Brussel, Brussels, Belgium.


Although body composition analysis is popular, dissection data are sparse and sometimes difficult to access. Published data that include the weights of skin, adipose tissue, muscle, and bone, along with body weight, are reviewed. The 31 men and 20 women include 34 cadavers from three separate dissection studies in Brussels, 12 from 19th century reports, and 5 from the United States. The age range was 16-94y. Men differed from women in that they had less adipose tissue and more muscle in both absolute and relative terms. The body mass index (BMI) did not differ between the sexes, because lower weights of muscle and bone compensated for the greater adiposity in women. The relationship between the BMI and relative adiposity was significant, but the BMI explained only about one-third of the variance in adiposity, indicating that in this sample it is a poor predictor of fatness. The composition of the fat-free weight (FFW) and adipose tissue free weight (ATFW), though less variable than body weight, showed enough variability that the assumption of constancy of the fat-free body required for densitometry and other indirect methods of fat estimation, could not be supported. In the few dissections that did fat extraction, essential on non-adipose fat, varied from 4-14% of the FFW, thus undermining the concept of lean body weight. More dissection data are needed, especially in children and adolescents, and especially in conjunction with in vivo body composition methods to help in their validation. Am. J. Hum. Biol. 11:167-174, 1999.

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