We measured whole body bone, fat and lean mass, by dual-energy x-ray absorptiometry, of third-grade children in a suburban public school district adjacent to Detroit. Of 1,340 eligible children, 773 participated. Using U.S. Census categories, parents identified their children as black/African-American (57%), white (38%), or one of several other categories (5%). Some of the participants also identified with a relatively large Middle Eastern subgroup (Chaldeans). Of the 773 participants, 734 are included in this report (71 Chaldeans, 226 whites, and 437 black/African-Americans; other categories are omitted). We describe body size, body composition, and physical activity levels in the three groups.
The Chaldean and black children have significantly higher average whole body bone mineral content (BMC) than whites (P > 0.05), but are not different from each other. Lean mass and height are significantly greater for Chaldeans and blacks than for whites. The ratio of BMC to height was also significantly greater in Chaldeans and blacks compared with whites. Chaldeans have a significantly higher weight and fat mass than either the black or white children, and report significantly less physical activity than either the white or the black children. The higher bone mass among the Chaldean children may be partially explained by their greater body mass, but there is no readily apparent explanation for the observed ethnic differences in body size. We cannot exclude genetic or environmental factors not evaluated in this observational study.
Our unexpected finding that Chaldean children, when analyzed as a separate group, are more similar in body composition to black/African-American than to white children contributes to a growing body of literature indicating that the uncritical use of “race” categories may obscure rather than facilitate the identification of population differences. Am J Phys Anthropol 103:157–162, 1997. © 1997 Wiley-Liss, Inc.