Greater abdominal fat accumulation is associated with higher metabolic risk in Chinese than in white people: an ethnicity study

PLoS One. 2013;8(3):e58688. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0058688. Epub 2013 Mar 14.


Introduction: Chinese are reported to have a higher percent body fat (%BF) and a higher percent trunk fat (%TF) than whites for a given body mass index (BMI). However, the associations of these ethnic differences in body composition with metabolic risks remain unknown.

Methods and procedures: A total of 1 029 Chinese from Hangzhou, China, and 207 whites from New York, NY, USA, were recruited in the present study. Body composition was measured using dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry (DXA). Analysis of covariance was used to assess the ethnic differences in fat, fat distribution, and metabolic risk factors.

Results: After adjusting for BMI, age, and height, Chinese men had an average of 3.9% more %BF and 12.1% more %TF than white men; Chinese women had an average of 2.3% more %BF and 11.8% more %TF than white women. Compared with whites, higher metabolic risks were detected in Chinese for a given BMI after adjusting for age and height. Further adjustment for %BF did not change these ethnic disparities. However, after adjusting for %TF, the ethnic differences decreased and become insignificant in triglyceride, high-density lipoprotein cholesterol, and blood pressure (except for systolic blood pressure in men). For fasting plasma glucose, the ethnic differences persisted after adjustment for %BF, but decreased significantly from 0.910 to 0.686 mmol/L among men, and from 0.629 to 0.355 mmol/L among women, when the analyses were further controlled for %TF.

Discussion: Chinese have both higher %BF and %TF than white people for a given BMI. However, only %TF could in part account for the higher metabolic risk observed in Chinese men and women.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Abdominal Fat / metabolism*
  • Adult
  • Asians*
  • Body Mass Index
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Metabolism*
  • Middle Aged
  • Risk Factors
  • Whites*

Grant support

This study was supported, in part, by funding from the China Medical Board (CMB) (grant 10-014) and the Scholarship Award for Excellent Doctoral Student granted by the Ministry of Education, China. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.