Are adult physiques geometrically similar? The dangers of allometric scaling using body mass power laws



Human physique classification by somatotype assumes that adult humans are geometric similar to each other. However, this assumption has yet to be adequately tested in athletic and nonexercising human populations. In this study, we assessed this assumption by comparing the mass exponents associated with girth measurements taken at 13 different sites throughout the body in 478 subjects (279 athletic subjects, and 199 nonexercising controls). Corrected girths which account for subcutaneous adipose tissue at the upper arm, thigh, and calf sites, and which simulate muscle circumference, were also calculated. If subjects are geometrically similar to each other, girth exponents should be approximately proportional to M1/3, where M is the subjects' body mass. This study confirms that human adult physiques are not geometrically similar to each other. In both athletic subjects and nonexercising controls, body circumferences/limb girths develop at a greater rate than that anticipated by geometric similarity in fleshy sites containing both muscle and fat (upper arms and legs), and less than anticipated in bony sites (head, wrists, and ankles). Interestingly, head girths appear to remain almost constant, irrespective of subjects' body size/mass. The results also suggest that thigh muscle girths of athletes and controls increase at a greater rate than that predicted by geometric similarity, proportional to body mass (M0.439 and M0.377, respectively). These systematic deviations from geometric similarity have serious implications for the allometric scaling of variables such as energy expenditure, oxygen uptake, anaerobic power, and thermodynamic or anthropometric studies involving individuals of differing size. Am J Phys Anthropol, 2003. © 2003 Wiley-Liss, Inc.