Do skinfolds accurately assess changes in body fat in obese children and adolescents?

Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2006 Mar;38(3):439-44. doi: 10.1249/01.mss.0000191160.07893.2d.


Purpose: Obesity is epidemic in Western societies, with rapid rates of increase in the young. Various methods exist for the assessment of body composition, but these have not been compared in obese children and adolescents. This study compared methods of body composition assessment in obese young people to determine whether changes in various measures of body composition as a result of exercise training were correlated.

Methods: Multiple anthropometric measures (weight, height, body mass index (BMI), skinfolds, waist and hip girths) and dual-energy x-ray absorptiometry (DEXA) were undertaken in 38 obese children and adolescents (12.7 +/- 2.1 yr) at baseline and following 8 wk of exercise training.

Results: At baseline, there were strong relationships (all P < 0.01) between DEXA total fat and weight (r = 0.83), BMI (r = 0.86), waist girth (r = 0.81), hip girth (r = 0.88), sum of six skinfolds (sum6, r = 0.79), and percent body fat (percent body fat) calculated using a four-skinfold equation (EQ4; r = 0.69). Similar relationships (all P < 0.001) existed between DEXA abdominal fat and weight (r = 0.79), waist girth (r = 0.83), hip girth (r = 0.69), and height (r = 0.71). Neither skinfold sums, nor percent body fat calculated from skinfold equations, were selected as independent predictors of DEXA total or abdominal fat by stepwise hierarchical linear regression. The reductions in DEXA total and abdominal fat following exercise were not predicted by changes in skinfolds or percent body fat calculated from skinfolds.

Conclusion: These data suggest that body fat derived from skinfold measures is poorly predictive of abdominal and total fat derived from DEXA in obese children and adolescents. This finding highlights the limitations of skinfolds in obese subjects and questions the validity of their use to assess changes in body composition with interventions such as exercise training.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Anthropometry / methods
  • Body Composition*
  • Child
  • Exercise
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Obesity / diagnosis*
  • Skinfold Thickness*
  • Western Australia