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Journal of Obesity
Volume 2013, Article ID 790654, 7 pages
Research Article

Body Fat and Body-Mass Index among a Multiethnic Sample of College-Age Men and Women

Center for Human Nutrition, David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, 14-193 Warren Hall, 900 Veteran Avenue, P.O. Box 951742, Los Angeles, CA 90095, USA

Received 22 November 2012; Revised 8 February 2013; Accepted 22 February 2013

Academic Editor: Analiza M. Silva

Copyright © 2013 Catherine L. Carpenter et al. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


Obesity prevalence and average body composition vary by US race and gender. Asian Americans have the lowest prevalence of obesity. Relying on body-mass index (BMI) to estimate obesity prevalence may misclassify subgroups that appear normally weighted but have excess body fat. We evaluated percentage body fat (PBF) and BMI to determine whether BMI reflects PBF consistently across different races. 940 college students were recruited from a local public university over four consecutive years. We measured PBF by bioelectrical impedance analysis (BIA), weight by physicians’ scales, and height with stadiometers. Our sample comprised Asians (49%), Caucasians (23%), Hispanics (7%), and Other (21%). Participants averaged 21.4 years old; BMI was 22.9 kg/m2; PBF was 24.8%. BMI and PBF varied significantly by race and gender (P value = 0.002 and 0.005 for men; 0.0009 and 0.0008 for women). Asian-American women had the lowest BMI (21.5 kg/m2) but the second highest PBF (27.8%). Linear association between BMI and PBF was the weakest ( ) among Asian-American women and BMI had the poorest sensitivity (37%) to detect PBF. The high PBF with low BMI pattern exhibited by Asian-American women suggests that they could escape detection for obesity-related disease if BMI is the sole measure that estimates body composition.