Title of article:

Body mass index and percent body fat: a meta analysis among different ethnic groups.

Authors: Deurenberg P, Yap M, van Staveren WA
Journal: Int J Obes Relat Metab Disord, Dec 1998;22(12):1164-71


OBJECTIVE: To study the relationship between percent body fat and body mass index (BMI) in different ethnic groups and to evaluate the validity of the BMI cut-off points for obesity. DESIGN: Meta analysis of literature data. SUBJECTS: Populations of American Blacks, Caucasians, Chinese, Ethiopians, Indonesians, Polynesians and Thais. MEASUREMENTS: Mean values of BMI, percent body fat, gender and age were adapted from original papers. RESULTS: The relationship between percent body fat and BMI differs in the ethnic groups studied. For the same level of body fat, age and gender, American Blacks have a 1.3 kg/m2 and Polynesians a 4.5 kg/m2 lower BMI compared to Caucasians. By contrast, in Chinese, Ethiopians, Indonesians and Thais BMIs are 1.9, 4.6, 3.2 and 2.9 kg/m2 lower compared to Caucasians, respectively. Slight differences in the relationship between percent body fat and BMI of American Caucasians and European Caucasians were also found. The differences found in the body fat/BMI relationship in different ethnic groups could be due to differences in energy balance as well as to differences in body build. CONCLUSIONS: The results show that the relationship between percent body fat and BMI is different among different ethnic groups. This should have public health implications for the definitions of BMI cut-off points for obesity, which would need to be population-specific.

Comments and Key points

This article demonstrated differences in body fat percentages, in different races.

Assuming a constant Body Fat percentage, different races have different Body Mass Index values to achieve the same body fat percentage. The chart shows the results:

race BMI differences

So, suppose that White race has a BMI overweight criteria at 25 kg/m2, then this article suggests (indirectly) that these would be suitable overweight criteria for other races:

Race Overweight BMI


Review & comments by Steven B. Halls, MD, Edited-modified on: 23-June, 2008, Copyright.
Back to Bibliography of BMI articles.

weight tools