Comparisons of percentage body fat, body mass index, waist circumference, and waist-stature ratio in adults

Am J Clin Nutr. 2009 Feb;89(2):500-8. doi: 10.3945/ajcn.2008.26847. Epub 2008 Dec 30.


Background: Body mass index (BMI), waist circumference (WC), and the waist-stature ratio (WSR) are considered to be possible proxies for adiposity.

Objective: The objective was to investigate the relations between BMI, WC, WSR, and percentage body fat (measured by dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry) in adults in a large nationally representative US population sample from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES).

Design: BMI, WC, and WSR were compared with percentage body fat in a sample of 12,901 adults.

Results: WC, WSR, and BMI were significantly more correlated with each other than with percentage body fat (P < 0.0001 for all sex-age groups). Percentage body fat tended to be significantly more correlated with WC than with BMI in men but significantly more correlated with BMI than with WC in women (P < 0.0001 except in the oldest age group). WSR tended to be slightly more correlated with percentage body fat than was WC. Percentile values of BMI, WC, and WSR are shown that correspond to percentiles of percentage body fat increments of 5 percentage points. More than 90% of the sample could be categorized to within one category of percentage body fat by each measure.

Conclusions: BMI, WC, and WSR perform similarly as indicators of body fatness and are more closely related to each other than with percentage body fat. These variables may be an inaccurate measure of percentage body fat for an individual, but they correspond fairly well overall with percentage body fat within sex-age groups and distinguish categories of percentage body fat.

MeSH terms

  • Absorptiometry, Photon / methods
  • Adipose Tissue / metabolism
  • Adiposity
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Body Composition / physiology*
  • Body Mass Index*
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Female
  • Health Surveys
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Obesity / diagnosis*
  • Obesity / epidemiology
  • Predictive Value of Tests
  • United States / epidemiology
  • Waist Circumference*
  • Waist-Hip Ratio*
  • Young Adult