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Body Mass Index and Percentage of Body Fat as Indicators for Obesity in an Adolescent Athletic Population

Background: Body mass index (BMI) is widely accepted in determining obesity. Skinfold thickness measurements have been commonly used to determine percentage of body fat. Hypothesis: The authors hypothesize that because BMI does not measure fat directly but relies on body weight alone, a large percentage of athletic adolescents will be misclassified as obese by BMI. Design: Cross-sectional study. Methods: To compare BMI and skinfold measurements as indicators for obesity in the adolescent athletic population, anthropometric data (height, weight, percentage body fat, age, and sex) were recorded from 33 896 student athletes (average age, 15 years; range, 11-19 years) during preparticipation physical examinations from 1985 to 2003. BMI was calculated from height and weight. Percentage of body fat was determined by measuring skinfold thickness. Results: According to their BMI percentile, 13.31% of adolescent athletes were obese. Using the skinfold method, only 5.95% were obese. Of those classified as obese by the BMI, 62% were considered false positives by the skinfold method. In contrast, there was a 99% probability that the non obese by BMI would not be obese by the skinfold method (negative predictive value = 0.99). Conclusions: BMI is a measurement of relative body weight, not body composition. Because lean mass weighs far more than fat, many adolescent athletes are incorrectly classified as obese based on BMI. Skinfold testing provides a more accurate body assessment than BMI in adolescent athletes. Clinical Relevance: Correct body composition data can help to provide better diet and activity guidelines and prevent the psychological problems associated with being labeled as obese.