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Measuring body composition in overweight individuals by dual energy x-ray absorptiometry

Rhonda A Brownbill and Jasminka Z Ilich*

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School of Allied Health, University of Connecticut, Storrs, CT 06269, USA

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Citation and License

BMC Medical Imaging 2005, 5:1  doi:10.1186/1471-2342-5-1

Published: 4 March 2005



Dual energy x-ray absorptiometry (DXA) is widely used for body composition measurements in normal-weight and overweight/obese individuals. The limitations of bone densitometers have been frequently addressed. However, the possible errors in assessing body composition in overweight individuals due to incorrect positioning or limitations of DXA to accurately assess both bone mineral density and body composition in obese individuals have not received much attention and are the focus of this report.


We discuss proper ways of measuring overweight individuals and point to some studies where that might not have been the case. It appears that currently, the most prudent approach to assess body composition of large individuals who cannot fit under the scanning area would be to estimate regional fat, namely the regions of thigh and/or abdomen. Additionally, using two-half body scans, although time consuming, may provide a relatively accurate measurement of total body fat, however, more studies using this technique are needed to validate it.


Researchers using bone densitometers for body composition measurements need to have an understanding of its limitations in overweight individuals and address them appropriately when interpreting their results. Studies on accuracy and precision in measurements of both bone and soft tissue composition in overweight individuals using available densitometers are needed.