The use of BMI and waist circumference as surrogates of body fat differs by ethnicity

Obesity (Silver Spring). 2007 Nov;15(11):2817-24. doi: 10.1038/oby.2007.334.


Objective: To compare the prediction of percentage body fat using BMI and visceral adipose tissue (VAT) using waist circumference (WC) in individuals of Chinese, European, and South Asian origin.

Research methods and procedures: Healthy men and women of Chinese, European, and South Asian origin (n = 627) between the ages of 30 and 65 years were recruited to ensure equal distribution of gender and representation across BMI ranges (18.5 to 24.9, 25 to 29.9, and >or=30 kg/m(2)). Participants were assessed for demographics, anthropometry, lifestyle, and regional adiposity. Percentage body fat and VAT were measured by DXA and computer tomography scan, respectively.

Results: BMI and WC were highly correlated with total and regional measures of adiposity in each ethnic group. At any BMI, the percentage body fat of Chinese participants was similar to that of Europeans, but that of South Asians was greater by 3.9% (p < 0.001). Above a WC of 71.0 cm, the Chinese participants had an increasingly greater amount of VAT than the Europeans (p = 0.017 for interaction). South Asians had significantly more VAT than the Europeans at all but the most extreme WC (above 105 cm) (p < 0.05).

Discussion: Compared with Europeans, percentage body fat was higher for a given BMI in South Asians, whereas VAT was higher for a given WC in both Chinese and South Asian men and women. These findings support the use of ethnic-specific anthropometric targets.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adipose Tissue / pathology*
  • Adiposity / ethnology*
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Anthropometry
  • Asian Continental Ancestry Group
  • Body Composition
  • Body Mass Index*
  • European Continental Ancestry Group
  • Female
  • Health Surveys
  • Humans
  • Intra-Abdominal Fat / pathology*
  • Life Style / ethnology
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Waist-Hip Ratio*