Relative leg length as a biological marker to trace the developmental history of individuals and populations: Growth delay and increased body fat


  • A. Roberto Frisancho

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    1. Department of Anthropology, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Michigan 48104
    • Department of Anthropology, University of Michigan, 1085 S. University, Ann Arbor, MI 48104
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The purpose of this study was to determine whether differences in leg length index are related to differences in body fat. The study included a cross-sectional sample of 21,021 subjects ranging in age from 2 to 90 years who had anthropometric information and poverty income ratio that participated in the third National Health and Nutrition Survey (NHANES III) of the United Stated conducted during 1988–1994. Of the total 21,021 participants, 7,810 were non-Hispanic white (3,900 men and 3,910, women), 8,134 were African-American black (3,127 men and 2,889 women) and 6,237 were Mexican-American (3,221 and 3,016 women). In both males and females and in all three ethnic groups and across socio-economic status (measured by the poverty income ratio) a low leg length index is associated with increased body fat (measured by skinfold thickness) when compared with those with high leg length index. It is postulated that a low leg length index reflects the consequence of negative environmental conditions leading to growth delay. Previous studies indicate that individuals exposed both during development and adulthood to under-nutrition respond through inter-related physiological mechanisms oriented at improving energetic efficiency and low oxidation of fat. These interrelated compensatory physiological adjustments work together to promote fat storage among growth delayed individuals or populations. Am. J. Hum. Biol., 2007. © 2007 Wiley-Liss, Inc.