Relation of adiposity and body fat distribution to body mass index in Australians of Aboriginal and European ancestry

Eur J Clin Nutr. 2003 Aug;57(8):956-63. doi: 10.1038/sj.ejcn.1601630.


Objective: To compare the relations of adiposity and body fat distribution to body mass index (BMI) in Australians of Aboriginal and European ancestry.

Design: Cross-sectional volunteer samples.

Setting: Australian Aboriginal communities in remote central and northern Australia, urban European Australians resident in Melbourne, Australia.

Subjects: Healthy Aboriginal (130 women, 120 men) and European Australians (100 women, 47 men) with a BMI<30 kg/m(2), aged 18-35 y; all women were nonpregnant.

Interventions: Anthropometric variables and resistance-using a four-terminal impedance plethysmograph-were measured.

Results: Aboriginal women and men were significantly shorter and weighed less than European Australians (P<0.05). Aboriginal women had a significantly larger waist circumference and waist-to-hip ratio (WHR, P<0.0005) compared to European Australian women. The sum of four skinfold thicknesses (SFT) (S4) and trunk SFT was higher in Aboriginals as compared to European Australian women (P<0.0005); however, limb SFT tended to be lower (P=0.06). On the other hand, BMI was significantly lower in Aboriginals compared to European Australian men (P=0.011), as was hip circumference (P=0.001); however, WHR was significantly (P=0.007) higher. On regression analysis, Aboriginal women and men were significantly heavier than European Australians for the same height(2)/resistance (surrogate for fat-free mass) and S4 (surrogate for subcutaneous fat); and that Aboriginal men had a significantly higher BMI (by 1.2 kg/m(2); P<0.0005) for any given S4 and height(2)/resistance values, compared to European Australian men.

Conclusion: Aboriginal and European Australians have a significantly different body fat distribution and fat mass for a given body weight or BMI. Use of the World Health Organization recommended BMI ranges to determine weight status may be inappropriate in Australian Aboriginal people.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adipose Tissue / anatomy & histology*
  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Anthropometry
  • Australia
  • Body Composition / physiology*
  • Body Constitution / ethnology*
  • Body Constitution / physiology
  • Body Mass Index*
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Electric Impedance
  • European Continental Ancestry Group*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Oceanic Ancestry Group*
  • Skinfold Thickness