Relationships between the Body Mass Index and body composition

Obes Res. 1996 Jan;4(1):35-44. doi: 10.1002/j.1550-8528.1996.tb00510.x.


The aims of this study were to evaluate the Body Mass Index (BMI) (weight/stature2) as a proxy for percent body fat (%BF) and to determine its association with fat-free mass (FFM). Multivariate analysis of variance and partial correlations were used to examine relationships between BMI and %BF and FFM from densitometry for 504 men and 511 women, aged 20 to 45 years. Sensitivity/specificity analyses used cut offs of 28 kg/m2 in men and 26 kg/m2 in women for BMI, and 25% in men and 33% in women for %BF. Significantly higher associations existed in each gender between BMI and %BF in the upper BMI tertile than in the lower BMI tertiles. In the lower BMI tertiles, correlations between BMI and FFM were approximately twice as large as those between BMI and %BF. The BMI correctly identified about 44% of obese men, and 52% of obese women when obesity was determined from %BF. BMI is an uncertain diagnostic index of obesity. Results of Receiver Operator Characteristic (ROC) analyses using %BF and total body fat, both provided a BMI of 25 kg/m2 in men and 23 kg/m2 in women as diagnostic screening cut offs for obesity.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adipose Tissue
  • Adult
  • Body Composition*
  • Body Height
  • Body Mass Index*
  • Body Weight
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Multivariate Analysis
  • Obesity / diagnosis
  • ROC Curve
  • Sensitivity and Specificity