Accuracy of subcutaneous fat measurement: comparison of skinfold calipers, ultrasound, and computed tomography

J Am Diet Assoc. 1994 Aug;94(8):855-8. doi: 10.1016/0002-8223(94)92363-9.


Objective: The purpose of this study was to compare skinfold caliper and ultrasound measurement of subcutaneous body fat at three abdominal sites with computed tomography, which is considered to be the gold standard.

Design: This was a cross-sectional study in which computed-tomography, ultrasound, and skinfold caliper measurements were made at three distinct abdominal sites. All body composition and anthropometric measurements were performed on each subject on one occasion.

Subjects: Twenty-two subjects were recruited (13 men and 9 women). Mean ages (+/- standard deviation) were 43 +/- 4 years for the women and 51 +/- 18 years for the men. All subjects had been previously scheduled for an abdominal or pelvic computed-tomography scan at the Department of Radiology, St Paul's Hospital, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, and participated in the study on a volunteer basis.

Main outcome measures: A better agreement was found between the skinfold calipers and computed-tomography methods than between the ultrasound and computed-tomography method for the measurement of subcutaneous body fat. This was observed when the data were analyzed for both correlational agreement and for graphical interpretation.

Statistical analyses performed: The relationships among skinfold, ultrasound, and computed-tomography measurements were analyzed by determining Pearson correlation coefficients. A graphical method described by Bland and Altman was also used to assess agreement among the three methods.

Results: Significant correlation coefficients were observed between skinfold calipers and computed tomography at all three abdominal sites (site 1, r = .60, P = .003; site 2, r = .70, P = .0001; site 3, r = .73, P = .0001). Ultrasound and computed-tomography methods only showed a significant correlation at site 3 (r = .54; P = .009). The graphical method revealed that the variation in the ultrasound measurements was much greater than that of the skinfold measurements when compared to computed-tomography values.

Applications/conclusions: The results of this study indicated that relative agreement in the measurement of subcutaneous body fat between skinfold and computed-tomography measurements was superior to that exhibited between ultrasound and computed-tomography measurements. This finding enhances the potential use of skinfold calipers in the clinical setting, particularly in view of the fact that measurement of subcutaneous body fat at different body sites is becoming increasingly important for the characterization of risk of certain disease states.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Abdomen
  • Adipose Tissue / anatomy & histology*
  • Adipose Tissue / diagnostic imaging*
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Anthropometry
  • Body Composition
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Pilot Projects
  • Skin
  • Skinfold Thickness*
  • Tomography, X-Ray Computed*
  • Ultrasonography