There are clear sex differences in the distribution of visceral adipose tissue (VAT) and subcutaneous adipose tissue (SAT) in adults, with males having more VAT and less SAT than females. This study assessed whether these differences between the sexes were already present in preschool children. It also evaluated which measures of body composition were most appropriate for assessing abdominal obesity in this age group.

Design and Methods:

One-hundred and five children (57 boys and 48 girls) participated in the study. Body composition was measured using dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry (DXA). Weight, height, and waist circumference (WC) were also recorded. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) of the entire abdomen using sixteen 10-mm-thick T1-weighted slices was performed in a subgroup of 48 children (30 boys and 18 girls); SAT and VAT volumes were measured using semiautomated segmentation.


Boys had significantly more VAT than girls (0.17 versus 0.10 l, P < 0.001). Results showed that VAT correlated significantly with all measurements of anthropometry (P < 0.01) after adjusting for SAT and for total fat mass measured with DXA. The mean limits of agreement between DXA and MRI regarding truncal FM were calculated to be −11.4 (range −17.8 to −3.6), using a Bland–Altman plot.


Sex differences in adipose tissue distribution are apparent at an early age. MRI is the best method with which to study abdominal fat distribution in young children.