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Body composition in relation to ethnicity

Researcher profiles:

Defining obesity reliably

Ethnicity appears to be an important determinant of the relative properties of fat and lean mass. People of Māori and Pacific descent have more lean body mass and less fat mass than those of European descent with the same body mass index (BMI). The converse applies to those of Asian descent.

These observations have led to the suggestion that lower BMI cut-offs should be used to define overweight and obesity amongst Asians than Europeans and higher cut-offs should be used for Māori. However these suggestions do not take into account the apparently higher risk of the co-morbidities associated with obesity.

This research project, which compares body composition and measures of co-morbidities in those of Māori and European ethnicity, aimed to determine whether the international BMI cut-off for overweight and obesity should be applied to the Māori people of New Zealand.

Our findings argued against having different BMI or waist circumference cutoffs for people of Polynesian descent.


Taylor, R.W., Brooking, L., Williams, S.M., Manning, P.J., Sutherland, W.H., Coppell, K.J., Tipene-Leach, D., Dale, K.S., McAuley, K.A., Mann, J.I. (2010). Body mass index and waist circumference cutoffs to define obesity in indigenous New Zealanders. Am J Clin Nutr. 92(2), 390-7.
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