JOURNAL ARTICLE

Validity of BMI as a measure of obesity in Australian white Caucasian and Australian Sri Lankan children

V P Wickramasinghe, G J Cleghorn, K A Edmiston, A J Murphy, R A Abbott, P S W Davies
Annals of Human Biology 2005, 32 (1): 60-71
15788355

BACKGROUND: Body mass index (BMI) is used to diagnose obesity. However, its ability to predict the percentage fat mass (%FM) reliably is doubtful. Therefore validity of BMI as a diagnostic tool of obesity is questioned.

AIM: This study is focused on determining the ability of BMI-based cut-off values in diagnosing obesity among Australian children of white Caucasian and Sri Lankan origin.

SUBJECTS AND METHODS: Height and weight was measured and BMI (W/H2) calculated. Total body water was determined by deuterium dilution technique and fat free mass and hence fat mass derived using age- and gender-specific constants. A %FM of 30% for girls and 20% for boys was considered as the criterion cut-off level for obesity. BMI-based obesity cut-offs described by the International Obesity Task Force (IOTF), CDC/NCHS centile charts and BMI-Z were validated against the criterion method.

RESULTS: There were 96 white Caucasian and 42 Sri Lankan children. Of the white Caucasians, 19 (36%) girls and 29 (66%) boys, and of the Sri Lankans 7 (46%) girls and 16 (63%) boys, were obese based on %FM. The FM and BMI were closely associated in both Caucasians (r=0.81, P<0.001) and Sri Lankans (r=0.92, P<0.001). Percentage FM and BMI also had a lower but significant association. Obesity cut-off values recommended by IOTF failed to detect a single case of obesity in either group. However, NCHS and BMI-Z cut-offs detected cases of obesity with low sensitivity.

CONCLUSIONS: BMI is a poor indicator of percentage fat and the commonly used cut-off values were not sensitive enough to detect cases of childhood obesity in this study. In order to improve the diagnosis of obesity, either BMI cut-off values should be revised to increase the sensitivity or the possibility of using other indirect methods of estimating the %FM should be explored.

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