To examine the accuracies of body mass index (BMI) and skinfold thicknesses in classifying the body fatness of 7365 8- to 19-year-old subjects in a national sample.Study design
We used percent body fat determined by dual-energy x-ray absorptiometry (PBFDXA) between 1999 and 2004. Categories of PBFDXA and the skinfold sum (triceps plus subscapular) were constructed so that that numbers of children in each category were similar to the number in each of 5 BMI categories based on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention growth charts.Results
Approximately 75% of the children and adolescents who had a BMI-for-age ≥ 95th percentile (considered obese) had elevated body fatness, but PBFDXA levels were more variable at lower BMIs. For example, only 41% of the boys who had a BMI < 25th percentile, had a similarly low PBFDXA. The use of the skinfold sum, rather than BMI, slightly improved the identification of elevated levels of body fatness among boys (P = .03), but not among girls (P > .10). A low sum of the triceps and subscapular skinfold thicknesses was a better indicator of low PBFDXA than was a low BMI, but differences were smaller among children with greater levels of body fatness. Among girls who had a PBFDXA above the median, for example, BMI and the skinfold sum were correlated similarly (r = 0.77-0.79) with body fatness.Conclusions
Both BMI and skinfold thicknesses are fairly accurate in identifying children who have excess body fatness. In contrast, if the goal is to identify children who have low body fatness, skinfold thicknesses would be preferred.