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Similarity in percent body fat between white and Vietnamese women: implication for a universal definition of obesity


It has been widely assumed that for a given BMI, Asians have higher percent body fat (PBF) than whites, and that the BMI threshold for defining obesity in Asians should be lower than the threshold for whites. This study sought to test this assumption by comparing the PBF between US white and Vietnamese women. The study was designed as a comparative cross-sectional investigation. In the first study, 210 Vietnamese women ages between 50 and 85 were randomly selected from various districts in Ho Chi Minh City (Vietnam). In the second study, 419 women of the same age range were randomly selected from the Rancho Bernardo Study (San Diego, CA). In both studies, lean mass (LM) and fat mass (FM) were measured by dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry (DXA) (QDR 4500; Hologic). PBF was derived as FM over body weight. Compared with Vietnamese women, white women had much more FM (24.8 +/- 8.1 kg vs. 18.8 +/- 4.9 kg; P < 0.0001) and greater PBF (36.4 +/- 6.5% vs. 35.0 +/- 6.2%; P = 0.012). However, there was no significant difference in PBF between the two groups after matching for BMI (35.1 +/- 6.2% vs. 35.0 +/- 5.7%; P = 0.87) or for age and BMI (35.6 +/- 5.1% vs. 35.8 +/- 5.9%; P = 0.79). Using the criteria of BMI >or=30, 19% of US white women and 5% of Vietnamese women were classified as obese. Approximately 54% of US white women and 53% of Vietnamese women had their PBF >35% (P = 0.80). Although white women had greater BMI, body weight, and FM than Vietnamese women, their PBF was virtually identical. Further research is required to derive a more appropriate BMI threshold for defining obesity for Asian women.

Type Journal
ISBN 1930-7381 (Print) 1930-7381 (Linking)
Authors Ho-Pham, L. T.; Lai, T. Q.; Nguyen, N. D.; Barrett-Connor, E.; Nguyen, T. V.
Publisher Name Obesity
Published Date 2010-07-01
Published Volume 18
Published Issue 6
Published Pages 1242-6
Status Published in-print
DOI oby201019 [pii] 10.1038/oby.2010.19
URL link to publisher's version
OpenAccess link to author's accepted manuscript version