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Int J Obes Relat Metab Disord. 1995 Sep;19(9):638-43.

Issues relating to normalization of body fat content in men and women.

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Department of Nutrition Sciences, University of Alabama, Birmingham 35294, USA.



Body mass index (BMI), % body fat, and the fat:lean ratio are ratios frequently used as obesity indices. Ratios are based on an assumption that the regression between the numerator (e.g. fat mass) and the denominator (e.g. body mass) has a zero-intercept. As shown in the companion paper, non-zero intercepts cause several problems when ratios are used to adjust data and analysis of covariance (ANCOVA) is frequently the preferred statistical tool. The purpose of this paper is to examine whether BMI, % body fat and the fat:lean ratio meet the necessary criteria for suitable obesity indices using gender comparisons as an example.


In 720 healthy men and women, BMI was higher in men (24.9 +/- 3.3 vs 23.4 +/- 3.2 kg/m2, P < 0.001), but fat mass, % fat and the fat:lean ratio were higher in women (14.8 +/- 8.4 vs 19.1 +/- 8.1 kg fat; 18.6 +/- 8.7 vs 29.9 +/- 9.7% body fat; 0.24 +/- 0.14 vs 0.46 +/- 0.20 for the fat:lean ratio; P < 0.001). Body mass (BM) was correlated with height2 in men (r = 0.40) and women (r = 0.36) with equivalent regression slopes (17.1 +/- 1.9 vs 15.6 +/- 2.3 kg per m2 in women), but the intercepts were different from zero (24.1 kg in men, 20.7 kg in women). When BM was adjusted for height2 using ANCOVA, men remained significantly heavier than women (74.4 +/- 11.0 vs 68.8 +/- 11.6 kg; P < 0.001). Fat mass (FM) was significantly correlated with BM in males (r = 0.64) and females (r = 0.78) but the regression slopes were different (0.49 +/- 0.03 vs 0.71 +/- 0.03 kg of fat per kg body mass in females; P < 0.05) and the intercepts were different from zero (-23.2 +/- 2.2 kg in males; -24.8 +/- 2.1 kg in females). FM adjusted for BM was significantly higher in women (11.7 vs 25.6 kg). FM was inversely correlated with fat free mass (FFM) in males (r = -0.17) and females (r = -0.20), with similar regression slopes (-0.16 +/- 0.05 vs -0.26 +/- 0.08 kg of FM per kg of FFM in women) and the intercepts were significantly different from zero (24.8 +/- 3.0 kg in males; 30.7 +/- 3.6 kg in females). When FM was adjusted for FFM, there was no significant difference between men (16.3 kg) and women (17.0 kg).


It is concluded that: (a) the presence of significant intercepts does not support the use of ratios as obesity indices and regression based models should be considered; and, (b) the direction and magnitude of the difference in obesity index between men and women changes with different normalization approaches.

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