Height and adiposity among children

Obes Res. 2004 May;12(5):846-53. doi: 10.1038/oby.2004.102.


Objective: Although BMI (kilograms per meter squared) is widely used as a surrogate measure of adiposity, it is moderately associated (r approximately 0.3) with height among children. We examined whether the resulting preferential classification of taller children as overweight, based on a BMI > or = 95th percentile, is appropriate.

Research methods and procedures: We assessed the cross-sectional relation of height among 5- to 18-year-old subjects (n = 1180) to levels of BMI, the sum of 10 skinfold thicknesses, and percentage body fat as determined by DXA.

Results: The prevalence of a BMI level > or = 95th percentile was substantially higher among 5- to 11-year-old subjects who were relatively tall for their age than among shorter children. Among 5- to 8-year-old boys, for example, each SD increase in height-for-age was associated with a 4.6-fold increase in the prevalence of overweight (p < 0.001). Height not only was associated with BMI but also showed similar correlations with the skinfold sum and with percentage body fat; furthermore, the magnitudes of these associations decreased with age. We also found that the association between percentage body fat and BMI (r = 0.85 to 0.90) was close to the maximum correlation that can be achieved by any weight-height index.

Discussion: The use of BMI, which preferentially classifies taller young children as overweight, is appropriate because height and adiposity are correlated before the age of 12 years.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Absorptiometry, Photon
  • Adipose Tissue*
  • Adolescent
  • Body Composition*
  • Body Height*
  • Body Mass Index
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Skinfold Thickness
  • Surveys and Questionnaires