Limits of body mass index to detect obesity and predict body composition

David C. Frankenfield, William A. Rowe, Robert N. Cooney, J. Stanley Smith, Dolores Becker

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

275 Scopus citations

Abstract

Body mass index (BMI) is commonly used to identify obesity. In this study, we determined how accurately BMI could determine body composition and identify obese from non-obese individuals. Fat-free mass and body fat were determined with bioelectrical impedance. Adiposity was calculated as body fat per body mass and as body fat divided by body height (m2). Obesity was defined as a BMI of at least 30 kg/m2 or an amount of body fat of at least 25% of total body mass for men and at least 30% for women. Obesity as defined by percentage of body fat was always present with a BMI of at least 30 kg/m2. However, 30% of men and 46% of women with a BMI below 30 kg/m2 had obesity levels of body fat. The greatest variability in the prediction of percentage of body fat and body fat divided by height (m2) from regression equations using BMI was at a BMI below 30 kg/m2. In conclusion, using impedance-derived body-fat mass as the criterion, people with BMI of at least 30 kg/m2 are obese. However, significant numbers of people with a BMI below 30 kg/m2 are also obese and thus misclassified by BMI. Percent of body fat and body fat divided by height (m2) are predictable from BMI, but the accuracy of the prediction is lowest when the BMI is below 30 kg/m2. Therefore, measurement of body fat is a more appropriate way to assess obesity in people with a BMI below 30 kg/m2.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)26-30
Number of pages5
JournalNutrition
Volume17
Issue number1
DOIs
StatePublished - 2001

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism
  • Nutrition and Dietetics

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