Assessment of the composition of major body regions by dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry (DEXA), with special reference to limb muscle mass


MRC Dunn Clinical Nutrition Centre, 100 Tennis Court Road, Cambridge, CB2 1QL, UK.


Summary Dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry (DEXA) has been used to assess and compare the composition of whole body and major body regions in 12 female (weight, 56.9 ± 6–2 kg; BMI, 17.25 kg m-2) and 16 male (weight, 73.1 ± 9–6 kg; BMI, 20.28 kg m-2) healthy subjects. Standard deviations (and % coefficients of variation) of the differences between repeated measurements of fat ranged from 0.11 kg (9.0%) for arms to 0.42 kg (30%) for whole body; for arm bone mineral, 0.01 kg (2.0%), and for fat-free soft tissue of the whole body, 0.42 kg (0.8%). Limb muscle mass was estimated using a new theoretical model of body composition, and the corresponding precision ranged from 015 kg (3.8%) to 0.27 kg (1.5%) for arms and total limb muscle mass, respectively.

Proportions of each region consisting of fat were greater in females than in males (range, 20.31% vs. 16.18%), respectively, but the ratio of trunk to leg fat was lower (34:49% vs. 46:38%, respectively). Regional proportions of bone were similar between the sexes (all in the range 2.9–5.6%, for both females and males).

Mean total limb muscle masses were 14.2 kg (arms, 2.8 kg; legs, 11.4 kg) for females and 22.2 kg (arms, 4.8 kg; legs, 17.4 kg) for males, which were 33.6% and 36.0% of fat-free mass, respectively. The correlation coefficients between limb muscle (DEXA) and other indices of muscle mass were: for DEXA vs. total body potassium, 0.90 (SEE 1.1kg muscle mass) to 0.94 (1.6 kg); and for DEXA vs. anthropometry, 0.43 (1.2 kg) to 0.85 (1.3 kg). Those for limb volume (DEXA) vs. anthropometric volume, 0.91 (0.78 1) to 0.94 (1.91 1).

It is concluded that DEXA enables the valid and reproducible estimation of fat, fat-free soft tissue, bone, and limb muscle mass.