Physical activity and dietary fiber determine population body fat levels: the Seven Countries Study

Int J Obes Relat Metab Disord. 2001 Mar;25(3):301-6. doi: 10.1038/sj.ijo.0801568.


Background: A global epidemic of obesity is developing. Current prevalence rates are about 20-25% in American adults and 15-20% in Europeans.

Objective: We investigated the association between population levels of physical activity, dietary fat, dietary fiber and indicators of body fat.

Design: Cross-cultural study of 16 cohorts of, in total, 12 763 middle-aged men in seven countries. These men were examined between 1958 and 1964.

Measurements: Height, weight and subscapular skinfold thickness were measured. Information about job-related physical activity and diet was gathered by questionnaire.

Results: The population average body mass index (weight/height) varied between 21.8 and 26.0 kg/m2 and the population average subscapular skinfold thickness between 8.4 and 23.7 mm. The population average physical activity index and dietary fiber intake were both strongly inversely related to population average subscapular skinfold thickness and explained together 90% of the variance in subscapular skinfold thickness. Similar but less strong results were obtained for average population body mass index.

Conclusion: At the population level job-related physical activity and dietary fiber but not dietary fat, are important determinants of subscapular skinfold thickness.

MeSH terms

  • Adipose Tissue / metabolism*
  • Adult
  • Body Composition*
  • Body Mass Index
  • Cohort Studies
  • Dietary Fats / administration & dosage*
  • Dietary Fiber / administration & dosage*
  • Europe / epidemiology
  • Exercise*
  • Humans
  • Japan / epidemiology
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Obesity / epidemiology*
  • Skinfold Thickness
  • United States / epidemiology


  • Dietary Fats
  • Dietary Fiber