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Association of body mass index (BMI) and percent body fat among BMI-defined non-obese middle-aged individuals: Insights from a population-based Canadian sample

Kelsey H. Collins, Behnam Sharif, Claudia Sanmartin, Raylene A. Reimer, Walter Herzog, Rick Chin, Deborah A. Marshall


OBJECTIVES: To evaluate the association between percent body fat (%BF) and body mass index (BMI) among BMI-defined non-obese individuals between 40 and 69 years of age using a population-based Canadian sample.

DATA AND METHODS: Cross-sectional data from the Canadian Health Measures Survey (2007 and 2009) was used to select all middle-aged individuals with BMI < 30 kg/m2 (n = 2,656). %BF was determined from anthropometric skinfolds and categorized according to sex-specific equations. Association of other anthropometry measures and metabolic markers were evaluated across different %BF categories. Significance of proportions was evaluated using chi-squared and Bonferroni-adjusted Wald test. Diagnostic performance measures of BMI-defined overweight categories compared to those defined by %BF were reported.

RESULTS: The majority (69%) of the sample was %BF-defined overweight/obese, while 55% were BMI-defined overweight. BMI category was not concordant with %BF classification for 30% of the population. The greatest discordance between %BF and BMI was observed among %BF-defined overweight/obese women (32%). Sensitivity and specificity of BMI-defined overweight compared to %BF-defined overweight/obese were (58%, 94%) among females and (82%, 59%) among males respectively. According to the estimated negative predictive value, if an individual is categorized as BMI-defined non-obese, he/she has a 52% chance of being in the %BF-defined overweight/obese category.

CONCLUSION: Middle-aged individuals classified as normal by BMI may be overweight/obese based on measures of %BF. These individuals may be at risk for chronic diseases, but would not be identified as such based on their BMI classification. Quantifying %BF in this group could inform targeted strategies for disease prevention.


Obesity; body mass index; body fat percentage; adipose tissue

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