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Body Mass Index Guidelines: Corresponding % Fat Standards Based on Three-Country Study


Practical Implications:

  • See table for proposed healthy body fat ranges.
  • This approach and initial findings provide the groundwork for establishing international standards for healthy body fat ranges.



International agencies have now adopted BMI standards for underweight (i.e., <18.5), overweight (>=25) and obesity (>=30).  There are no accepted % fat levels corresponding to these ranges despite increasing interest in quantifying body fat.


Body fat was measured in US, UK & Japan using state-of-the-art methods (4-compartment [C] method [measured ³H²O dilution vol; body density; bone mineral] in 2 countries and DXA in all 3), and % fat prediction equations were developed based on BMI and other independant variables.  Subjects were multiethnic healthy adults (n for US, UK & Japan, 925, 205 & 924) with BMI<=35 ranging in age from 18-94 years.


Strong correlations existed between 4-C and DXA % fat for US & UK centers (R²=0.85-0.94, p's<0.001). DXA % fat prediction models at all 3 centers were

similar and included BMI and age as in dependant variables (R²-0.50-0.81, p's<0.001). There were small between-center differences in predicted % fat (max 3%) that varied with age and gender. The mean predicted % fat for 3 countries is shown in the table.  This approach and initial findings provide the groundwork for establishing international standards for healthy body fat ranges.


Mean Predicted % Fat For 3 Countries
Age 20-39 40-59 60-79
BMI 18.5 20.5 21.3 22.1
25 35.0 35.8 36.6
30 41.9 42.7 43.5
Age 20-39 40-59 60-79
BMI 18.5 8.5 10.2 11.9
25 21.2 22.9 24.5
30 27.2 28.9 30.5

*Reprinted from Tanita Corporation of America, Inc.

Source: D. Gallagher*, S.B. Heymsfield*, M. Heo*, S. Jebb**, P. Murgatroyd**, Y. Sakamoto***
*Obesity Research Center, St. Luke's-Roosevelt Hospital Center, Columbia University, New York City
**Cambridge University, UK
***Kashiwa Hospital, Jikei Univ. Japan


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