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Determining body composition in adults

George A Bray, MD
Leigh Perreault, MD
Section Editor
F Xavier Pi-Sunyer, MD, MPH
Deputy Editor
Daniel J Sullivan, MD, MPH


Methods for determining body composition continue to improve, greatly increasing the accuracy and ease of making these measurements [1-4]. 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".)


When considering health and disease, body weight is not nearly as important as the composition of that weight. Body weight reflects the combined weight of all the body's tissues, while body composition measures the relative proportions of fat and lean mass in the body. Lean mass refers to bones, tissues, organs, and muscle.

Measurements of body composition are most commonly done for research purposes. However, body composition measurements may also be useful in a number of clinical settings to:

Evaluate undernourished patients.

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Literature review current through: Nov 2017. | This topic last updated: Jul 10, 2017.
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