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Determining body composition in adults

George A Bray, MD
Section Editor
F Xavier Pi-Sunyer, MD, MPH
Deputy Editor
Kathryn A Martin, MD


Methods for determining body composition continue to improve, greatly increasing the accuracy and ease of making these measurements [1-4]. Body composition measurements may be useful in undernourished patients, or for identifying patients who do not have an increase in overall body fat, but who have an increase in visceral fat. This latter circumstance is associated with a substantially increased risk of heart disease and diabetes. Measurement of body composition is also instructive for assessing body changes associated with growth and development, aging (sarcopenia), and in certain disease states (eg, human immunodeficiency virus [HIV], diabetes) [5-11].

Certain measurements, such as height, weight (to calculate body mass index [BMI]), and waist circumference are the minimal clinical criteria for evaluating the overweight patient. This topic will review body composition and critique most methods available for its measurement. Other considerations when evaluating the overweight patient are discussed elsewhere. (See "Obesity in adults: Prevalence, screening, and evaluation".)


Body composition can be viewed from five perspectives (figure 1) [1,12]:




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Literature review current through: Mar 2017. | This topic last updated: Apr 17, 2015.
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