Variation in urinary flow rates according to demographic characteristics and body mass index in NHANES: potential confounding of associations between health outcomes and urinary biomarker concentrations

Environ Health Perspect. 2015 Apr;123(4):293-300. doi: 10.1289/ehp.1408944. Epub 2015 Jan 27.


Background: Urinary analyte concentrations are affected both by exposure level and by urinary flow rate (UFR). Systematic variations in UFR with demographic characteristics or body mass index (BMI) could confound assessment of associations between health outcomes and biomarker concentrations.

Objectives: We assessed patterns of UFR (milliliters per hour) and body weight-adjusted UFR (UFRBW; milliliters per kilogram per hour) across age, sex, race/ethnicity, and BMI category in the NHANES (National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey) 2009-2012 data sets.

Methods: Geometric mean (GM) UFR and UFRBW were compared across age-stratified (6-11, 12-19, 20-39, 40-59, and ≥ 60 years) subgroups (sex, race/ethnicity, and BMI category). Patterns of analyte urinary concentration or mass excretion rates (nanograms per hour and nanograms per kilogram per hour BW) were assessed in sample age groups for case study chemicals bisphenol A and 2,5-dichlorophenol.

Results: UFR increased from ages 6 to 60 years and then declined with increasing age. UFRBW varied inversely with age. UFR, but not UFRBW, differed significantly by sex (males > females after age 12 years). Differences in both metrics were observed among categories of race/ethnicity. UFRBW, but not UFR, varied inversely with BMI category and waist circumference in all age groups. Urinary osmolality increased with increasing BMI. Case studies demonstrated different exposure-outcome relationships depending on exposure metric. Conventional hydration status adjustments did not fully address the effect of flow rate variations.

Conclusions: UFR and UFRBW exhibit systematic variations with age, sex, race/ethnicity, and BMI category. These variations can confound assessments of potential exposure-health outcome associations based on urinary concentration. Analyte excretion rates are valuable exposure metrics in such assessments.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Benzhydryl Compounds / urine*
  • Biomarkers / urine
  • Body Mass Index*
  • Body Weight
  • Child
  • Chlorophenols / urine*
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Demography
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Nutrition Surveys
  • Phenols / urine*
  • Waist Circumference


  • Benzhydryl Compounds
  • Biomarkers
  • Chlorophenols
  • Phenols
  • 2,5-dichlorophenol
  • bisphenol A