Human allometry: adult bodies are more nearly geometrically similar than regression analysis has suggested

Med Hypotheses. 2010 Jan;74(1):15-7. doi: 10.1016/j.mehy.2009.08.009. Epub 2009 Sep 1.


It is almost a matter of dogma that human body mass in adults tends to vary roughly in proportion to the square of height (stature), as Quetelet stated in 1835. As he realised, perfect isometry or geometric similarity requires that body mass varies with height cubed, so there seems to be a trend for tall adults to be relatively much lighter than short ones. Much evidence regarding component tissues and organs seems to accord with this idea. However, the hypothesis is presented that the proportions of the body are actually very much less size-dependent. Past evidence has mostly been obtained by least-squares regression analysis, but this cannot generally give a true picture of the allometric relationships. This is because there is considerable scatter in the data (leading to a low correlation between mass and height) and because neither variable causally determines the other. The relevant regression equations, though often formulated in logarithmic terms, effectively treat the masses as proportional to (body height)(b). Values of b estimated by regression must usually underestimate the true functional values, doing so especially when mass and height are poorly correlated. It is therefore telling support for the hypothesis that published estimates of b both for the whole body (which range between 1.0 and 2.5) and for its component tissues and organs (which vary even more) correlate with the corresponding correlation coefficients for mass and height. There is no simple statistical technique for establishing the true functional relationships, but Monte Carlo modelling has shown that the results obtained for total body mass are compatible with a true height exponent of three. Other data, on relationships between body mass and the girths of various body parts such as the thigh and chest, are also more consistent with isometry than regression analysis has suggested. This too is demonstrated by modelling. It thus seems that much of anthropometry needs to be re-evaluated. It is not suggested that all organs and tissues scale equally with whole body size.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Anthropometry
  • Body Patterning*
  • Body Size
  • Humans
  • Models, Anatomic
  • Models, Theoretical
  • Reference Values
  • Regression Analysis
  • Risk Factors