Body mass index (BMI) is used frequently to estimate adiposity levels in children and adults. However, the applicability of BMI to populations with high levels of stunting has been questioned. Stunted people can have disproportionately short legs, which may increase BMI without increasing body fat because of the relatively larger trunk compared with the legs.
A sample of 57 urban Maya schoolchildren, aged 7–9 years (31 boys), and 53 adult women underwent anthropometric assessments and bioelectrical impedance analysis. Multiple linear regression was performed to determine whether the ability of BMI to predict adiposity indicators is altered by stunting and sitting height ratio (SHR). The adiposity indicators were waist circumference, sum of skinfolds, upper arm muscle area, upper arm fat area, and arm fat index.
BMI was the strongest predictor of all adiposity indicators and in most cases, explained more of the variance in adiposity of Maya children than Maya women. Abdominal adiposity was better predicted by BMI than peripheral adiposity in Maya women and Maya children. Stunting was significant in predicting adiposity in some models but never substantially changed the variance explained. SHR was never a significant predictor.
The relationship between BMI and adiposity indicators is not changed by stunting status or body proportions in this short population of urban Maya children and women. BMI can be used as an indicator of adiposity for these children but not the women. It is recommended that BMI is used in conjunction with other estimates of body composition. Am. J. Hum. Biol., 2011. © 2011Wiley-Liss, Inc.