Measuring growth and obesity across childhood and adolescence

Proc Nutr Soc. 2014 May;73(2):210-7. doi: 10.1017/S0029665113003868. Epub 2014 Jan 15.


The dramatic rise in childhood obesity has driven the demand for tools better able to assess and define obesity and risk for related co-morbidities. In addition, the early life origins of non-communicable diseases including type 2 diabetes are associated with subtle alterations in growth and body composition, including total and regional body fatness, limb/trunk length and skeletal muscle mass (SMM). Consequently improved tools based on national reference data, which capture these body components must be developed as the limitations of BMI as a measure of overweight and obesity and associated cardiometabolic risk are now recognised. Furthermore, waist circumference as a measure of abdominal fatness in children is now endorsed by the International Diabetes Federation and National Institute for Clinical and Health Excellence for diagnostic and monitoring purposes. The present paper aims to review the research on growth-related variations in body composition and proportions, together with how national references for percentage body fat, SMM and leg/trunk length have been developed. Where collection of these measures is not possible, alternative proxy measures including thigh and hip circumferences are suggested. Finally, body ratios including the waist:height and muscle:fat ratios are highlighted as potential measures of cardiometabolic disease risk. In conclusion, a collection of national references for individual body measures have been produced against which children and youths can be assessed. Collectively, they have the capacity to build a better picture of an individual's phenotype, which represents their risk for cardiometabolic disease beyond that of the capability of BMI.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adipose Tissue*
  • Adolescent
  • Body Fat Distribution*
  • Body Mass Index*
  • Child
  • Growth
  • Humans
  • Muscle, Skeletal*
  • Pediatric Obesity*
  • Waist Circumference*
  • Waist-Height Ratio*