Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Ethnic differences in body fat distribution among Asian pre-pubertal children: A cross-sectional multicenter study

Ailing Liu12, Nuala M Byrne2, Masaharu Kagawa3, Guansheng Ma1, Kallaya Kijboonchoo4, Lara Nasreddine5, Bee Koon Poh6, Mohammad Noor Ismail6 and Andrew P Hills7*

Author Affiliations

1 National Institute for Nutrition and Food Safety, Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, Beijing, China

2 Institute of Health and Biomedical Innovation, Queensland University of Technology, Brisbane, Australia

3 Institute of Nutrition Sciences, Kagawa Nutrition University, Saitama, Japan

4 Institute of Nutrition, Mahidol University at Salaya, Nakhon Pathom, Thailand

5 Department of Nutrition and Food Sciences, Faculty of Agriculture and Food Sciences, American University of Beirut, Beirut, Lebanon

6 Department of Nutrition and Dietetics, Faculty of Health Sciences, Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

7 Griffith Health Institute, Griffith University and Mater Mother's Hospital, Mater Medical Research Institute, Australia

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BMC Public Health 2011, 11:500  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-11-500

Published: 26 June 2011



Ethnic differences in body fat distribution contribute to ethnic differences in cardiovascular morbidities and diabetes. However few data are available on differences in fat distribution in Asian children from various backgrounds. Therefore, the current study aimed to explore ethnic differences in body fat distribution among Asian children from four countries.


A total of 758 children aged 8-10 y from China, Lebanon, Malaysia and Thailand were recruited using a non-random purposive sampling approach to enrol children encompassing a wide BMI range. Height, weight, waist circumference (WC), fat mass (FM, derived from total body water [TBW] estimation using the deuterium dilution technique) and skinfold thickness (SFT) at biceps, triceps, subscapular, supraspinale and medial calf were collected.


After controlling for height and weight, Chinese and Thai children had a significantly higher WC than their Lebanese and Malay counterparts. Chinese and Thais tended to have higher trunk fat deposits than Lebanese and Malays reflected in trunk SFT, trunk/upper extremity ratio or supraspinale/upper extremity ratio after adjustment for age and total body fat. The subscapular/supraspinale skinfold ratio was lower in Chinese and Thais compared with Lebanese and Malays after correcting for trunk SFT.


Asian pre-pubertal children from different origins vary in body fat distribution. These results indicate the importance of population-specific WC cut-off points or other fat distribution indices to identify the population at risk of obesity-related health problems.

body fat distribution; ethnicity; children