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Obes Res. 2003 Nov;11(11):1345-52.

Which metric of relative weight best captures body fatness in children?

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Division of Adolescent Medicine, Department of Medicine, Children's Hospital Boston and Harvard Medical School, 300 Longwood Avenue, Boston, MA 02115, USA.



To evaluate the relative merits of BMI (kilograms per meter squared) and age- and gender-adjusted BMI, age- and gender-specific z score of BMI, and age- and gender-specific percentiles of BMI as surrogate measures of body fatness among a sample of youth.


The sample comprised 596 children and adolescents 5 to 18.7 years old and was 40% male and 55% white. Height and weight were measured by trained research staff. DXA was used to determine body fat mass. BMI, age- and gender-specific percentile of BMI, and age- and gender-specific z scores of BMI were computed, and these metrics were compared with measured body fatness.


The BMI values in the sample ranged from 12.9 to 55.0 kg/m(2), with a mean of 24.9 kg/m(2). The Spearman correlations with percentage body fat were similar for all of the BMI metrics (r = 0.82 to 0.88). Linear regression models with age- and gender-specific percentiles of BMI explained significantly less of the variance (65%) than models with log-transformed BMI (81%) or age- and gender-specific z scores of BMI (75% to 79%). z scores were the most accurate at classifying children who were overfat (sensitivity = 0.84, specificity = 0.96 for z score > or = 1). However, using a BMI > or = 85th percentile or a BMI > or = 20 kg/m(2) was also accurate at classifying youth.


The BMI metrics had similar correlations with body fatness, but age- and gender-specific percentiles of BMI were the least accurate proxy measure of body fatness. However, a BMI z score > or = 1, BMI percentile > or = 85, and BMI> or = 20 kg/m(2) are all useful for identifying children who may be overfat.

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