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Int J Obes (Lond). 2007 Aug;31(8):1232-9. Epub 2007 Mar 6.

BMI, fat and muscle differences in urban women of five ethnicities from two countries.

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Institute of Sport and Recreation Research, Faculty of Health and Environmental Sciences, AUT University, Auckland, New Zealand.



To investigate body composition differences, especially the relationship between body mass index (BMI) and percent body fat (%BF), among five ethnic groups.




Seven hundred and twenty-one apparently healthy women aged 18-60 years (BMI: 17.4-54.0 kg/m(2)) from South Africa (SA, 201 black, 94 European) and New Zealand (NZ, 173 European, 76 Maori, 84 Pacific, 93 Asian Indian).


Anthropometry, including waist circumference, and total, central and peripheral body fat, bone mineral content and total appendicular skeletal muscle mass (ASMM) derived from dual X-ray absorptiometry.


Regression analysis determined that at a BMI of 30 kg/m(2), SA European women had a %BF of 39%, which corresponded to a BMI of 29 for SA black women. For a BMI of 30 kg/m(2) in NZ Europeans, equivalent to 43% body fat, the corresponding BMIs for NZ Maori, Pacific and Asian Indian women were 34, 36 and 26 kg/m(2), respectively. Central fat mass was lower in black SA than in European SA women (P<0.001). In NZ, Pacific women had the lowest central fat mass and highest ASMM, whereas Asian Indian women had the highest central fat mass, but lowest ASMM and bone mineral content.


The relationship between %BF and BMI varies with ethnicity and may be due, in part, to differences in central fatness and muscularity. Use of universal BMI or waist cut-points may not be appropriate for comparison of obesity prevalence among differing ethnic groups, as they do not provide a consistent reflection of adiposity and fat distribution across ethnic groups.

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