Public Health Nutrition

Research Article

Laboratory and field measurements of body composition

NG Norgana1 c1

a1 Department of Human Sciences, Loughborough University, Loughborough, LE11 3TU, UK


Objective This background paper was prepared in response to a request to review the concepts related to measurement of body composition, to discuss laboratory and field methods of assessing body composition and to discuss the practical applications of the methods – how they might be used singly or in combination to provide data for a selected population.

Design The common laboratory and field methods are described and discussed, with particular attention to the assumptions involved and the applicability of the methods to the different population groups. Most measurements of body composition are made in the field, at the bedside or clinic as opposed to in the laboratory. The laboratory methods have a role to play in their own right, in research into new concepts, models and methods. However, they are particularly important in establishing the accuracy of the field methods.

Setting Field, bedside and laboratory studies.

Subjects Children, adults, the elderly, ethnic groups.

Results Laboratory estimates of body compositions are best performed by multi-component methods or by 2-component methods adjusted for to the populations under investigation. There is a scarcity of data for most of the populations in the world.

Conclusions Energy requirements based on body weight are an approximation since they do not take into account differences in body composition, which will better determine the true requirements. The measurement of body composition occurs in many branches of biology and medicine. It is used in the assessment of nutritional and growth status and in disease states and their treatment. Energy stores, skeletal muscle and protein content can be determined and changes monitored. In human energetics, body composition is widely used for the standardisation of other variables, such as basal metabolic rate (BMR), in the assessments of ethnic and environmental differences and of variability and adaptation to different levels of nutrition. Choosing a method is very problematic. Users want simple, inexpensive, rapid, safe accurate methods to measure body composition but speed and simplicity come at the expense of accuracy. Recommendations are made for age, sex, and in some cases, fatness and ethnic specific methods.


c1 *Corresponding author: Email