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Am J Hum Biol. 1994;6(2):255-262. doi: 10.1002/ajhb.1310060215.

Skeletal differences between black and white men and their relevance to body composition estimates.

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Department of Medicine, Obesity Research Center, St. Luke's-Roosevelt Hospital, Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons, New York, New York 10025.


Skeletal differences exist between closely matched Black and White women, although it is unknown if similar differences also exist between Black and White men after controlling for age, body weight, and stature. The aim of this study was twofold: to test the hypothesis that Black men have greater bone mass, higher bone mineral density, and longer limbs compared to White men of similar age, weight, and height; and second, to establish if ethnic variation in skeletal characteristics has an impact on the models upon which three widely used methods for estimating total body fat are based. Twenty-four healthy Black men were matched by age (±5 years), height (±3 cm), and weight (±2 kg) to 24 healthy White men. Skeletal characteristics and body composition were studied using anatomical and compartment estimates derived by anthropometry, 3 H2 O dilution, hydrodensitometry, whole-body 40 K counting, and dual photon systems. Black men had greater bone mineral mass (P = 0.007), higher bone density (P = 0.054), longer femurs (P = 0.002), longer anthropometric arm and thigh lengths (P = 0.001 and P = 0.002, respectively), lower spine to femur ratio (P = 0.004), and similar spine length (P = 0.271) compared to White men. Total body fat and fat-free body mass (FFM) were estimated in the men using a four-compartment model. Black and White men had similar total body fat, K (TBK), water (TBW), and FFM. Density of FFM and TBK/FFM were also similar between Black and White men, suggesting that current two-compartment hydrodensitometry and TBK models for estimating fat may not require adjustments for ethnicity. The TBW/FFM ratio, which is the main assumed steady-state relation for the two-compartment TBW method of estimating fat, was modestly increased (P = 0.05) in Black men (x̄ ± SD, 0.744 ± 0.018) compared to White men (0.732 ± 0.021). These results confirm that Black and White men differ significantly in some skeletal characteristics and these differences have implications in the study of both osteoporosis and human body composition.


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