Title of article:

Asians have lower body mass index (BMI) but higher percent body fat than do whites: comparisons of anthropometric measurements.

Authors: Wang J, Thornton JC, Russell M, Burastero S, Heymsfield S, Pierson RN.
Journal: Am J Clin Nutr, Jul 1994;60(1):23-8

Abstract

We studied the correlations between body mass index (BMI) and percent body fat (fat%) measured by dual-photon absorptiometry (DPA) in 445 white and 242 Asian adults aged 18-94 y. In addition, comparisons in six circumferences and eight skinfold-thickness measurements between whites and Asians were made to explain the discrepancies. Although Asians had lower BMI, they were fatter than whites of both sexes. The correlations between fat% and BMI varied by BMI and sex and race. Comparisons in anthropometry show that Asians had more subcutaneous fat than did whites and had different fat distributions from whites. Asians had more upper-body subcutaneous fat than did whites. The magnitude of differences between the two races was greater in females than in males. Prediction equations developed for each sex and race, based on BMI alone, gave SEEs ranging from 4.4% to 5.7%. All were significantly improved to the range of 3.5-4.4% when age and several skinfold-thickness measurements were added.

Comments and Key points

This article has equations to predict body fat percentage, based on body mass index, race and gender. When graphed, they look like this, showing little difference in women, but a bigger difference in men. Asian men have higher body fat % at similar BMI.

Asian vs white fat differences

There is a table in the article, showing the body fat percentages that are expected at a "Normal" BMI of 25 kg/m2.

  Body Fat %
Males  
Whites 19.2
Asians 23.6
Difference 4.4
Females  
Whites 34.2

Asians

36.8
Difference 2.6

 

Or, to state it differently, I took their formulas and calculated the BMI necessary to achieve a body fat percentage of 25% in men and 33% in women.

  BMI
Males  
Whites 29.59
Asians 26.04
Difference 3.55
Females  
Whites 24.36
Asians 22.67

Difference

1.70

But there's something fishy about that result. Their "White" men seem to have a higher than expected BMI (29.59 kg/m2) when body fat percentage is 25%. If that figure is too high, then the difference between white and Asian men is also probably too high. Their sample came from New York, with an average age of 51 years. That's a little older than most other studies.

This article mentions that Asians have shorter leg lengths, and also greater amounts of subcutaneous fat in the upper body.

One last comment. I think their abstract has a mistake. It says that the racial differences were greater in women, but in the actual article, their equations and data tables show a greater difference in Men than women.

Review & comments by Steven B. Halls, MD, Last edited 23-June-2008, Copyright
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