Objective: To investigate body composition differences, especially the relationship between body mass index (BMI) and percent body fat (%BF), among five ethnic groups.
Subjects: Seven hundred and twenty-one apparently healthy women aged 18-60 years (BMI: 17.4-54.0 kg/m(2)) from South Africa (SA, 201 black, 94 European) and New Zealand (NZ, 173 European, 76 Maori, 84 Pacific, 93 Asian Indian).
Measurements: Anthropometry, including waist circumference, and total, central and peripheral body fat, bone mineral content and total appendicular skeletal muscle mass (ASMM) derived from dual X-ray absorptiometry.
Results: Regression analysis determined that at a BMI of 30 kg/m(2), SA European women had a %BF of 39%, which corresponded to a BMI of 29 for SA black women. For a BMI of 30 kg/m(2) in NZ Europeans, equivalent to 43% body fat, the corresponding BMIs for NZ Maori, Pacific and Asian Indian women were 34, 36 and 26 kg/m(2), respectively. Central fat mass was lower in black SA than in European SA women (P<0.001). In NZ, Pacific women had the lowest central fat mass and highest ASMM, whereas Asian Indian women had the highest central fat mass, but lowest ASMM and bone mineral content.
Conclusions: The relationship between %BF and BMI varies with ethnicity and may be due, in part, to differences in central fatness and muscularity. Use of universal BMI or waist cut-points may not be appropriate for comparison of obesity prevalence among differing ethnic groups, as they do not provide a consistent reflection of adiposity and fat distribution across ethnic groups.