Ethnic and gender differences in body fat in British schoolchildren as measured by DXA

Arch Dis Child. 2007 Oct;92(10):872-5. doi: 10.1136/adc.2007.117911. Epub 2007 May 23.


Background: There are known to be ethnic differences in body composition in adults which are related to ethnic differences in adult disease.

Objectives: To evaluate gender and ethnic differences in percentage body fat in British schoolchildren and to compare these differences with classification of obesity using body mass index (BMI) criteria.

Design: A cross-sectional study of 1251 healthy children and adolescents aged 5-18 years from white, South Asian and African-Caribbean ethnic groups. Percentage body fat was determined by dual x ray absorptiometry and the subjects classified using BMI criteria for overweight and obesity.

Results: Significant gender differences in percentage body fat were seen, with girls having higher values from the age of 5 years. Girls had 3.8% higher percentage body fat at 5 years of age increasing to 12.9% at 18 years of age. Significant ethnic differences were found, with South Asian girls and boys having the highest percentage body fat from 5 and 7 years of age, respectively. These differences increased with age, being most significant in the teenage years. Although South Asian girls and boys were over-represented in the group containing children with more than 25% body fat (p<0.0001, chi2 test), African-Caribbean subjects were more likely to be classified as obese using BMI criteria.

Conclusions: There are clear gender and ethnic differences in percentage body fat in British schoolchildren which may relate to known differences in the risk of type 2 diabetes in adolescence and adulthood. BMI criteria for defining overweight and obesity do not accurately identify ethnic differences in body fat.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Absorptiometry, Photon / methods
  • Adolescent
  • Age Factors
  • Body Mass Index*
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 2 / diagnostic imaging
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 2 / ethnology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Obesity / diagnostic imaging*
  • Obesity / ethnology
  • Puberty
  • Racial Groups
  • Sex Characteristics