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Am J Clin Nutr. 2014 Dec;100(6):1455-61. doi: 10.3945/ajcn.114.088831. Epub 2014 Oct 8.

Scaling of adult body weight to height across sex and race/ethnic groups: relevance to BMI.

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From the Pennington Biomedical Research Center, LSU System, Baton Rouge, LA (SBH, CMP, and JMS); Montclair State University, Montclair, NJ (DMT); Albert Einstein College of Medicine, Bronx, NY (MH); and Hanyang University, Seoul, Republic of Korea (SH and WC).



Body mass index (BMI) is formulated on the assumption that body weight (BW) scales to height with a power of 2 (BW∝height(2)), independent of sex and race-ethnicity. Powers differing from 2 are observed in studies of selected samples, thus raising the question if BMI is a generalizable metric that makes BW independent of height across populations.


The objectives were to test the hypothesis that adult BW scales to height with a power of 2 independent of sex and race-ethnicity and to advance an understanding of BMI as a measure of shape by extending allometric analyses to waist circumference (WC).


We conducted cross-sectional subject evaluations, including body composition, from the NHANES and the Korean NHANES (KNHANES). Variations of the allometric model (Y = αX(β)) were used to establish height scaling powers (β ± SE) across non-Hispanic white and black, Mexican American, and Korean men and women.


Exploratory analyses in population samples established age and adiposity as important independent determinants of height scaling powers (i.e., β). After age and adiposity in the next series of analyses were controlled for, BW scaling powers were nonsignificantly different between race/ethnic groups within each sex group; WC findings were similar in women, whereas small but significant between-race differences were observed in the men. Sex differences in β values were nonsignificant except for BW in non-Hispanic blacks and WC in Koreans (P < 0.05). Nationally representative powers for BW were (NHANES/KNHANES) 2.12 ± 0.05/2.11 ± 0.06 for men and 2.02 ± 0.04/1.99 ± 0.06 for women and for WC were 0.66 ± 0.03/0.67 ± 0.05 for men and 0.61 ± 0.04/0.56 ± 0.05 for women.


Adult BW scales to height with a power of ∼2 across the 8 sex and race/ethnic groups, an observation that makes BMI a generalizable height-independent measure of shape across most populations. WC also follows generalizable scaling rules, a finding that has implications for defining body shape in populations who differ in stature.


adiposity; allometric analysis; body composition; body shape; nutritional assessment

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