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BACKGROUND: In studies of the association of adiposity with disease risk, widely used anthropometric measures of adiposity (e.g. body-mass-index [BMI], waist circumference [WC], waist-hip ratio [WHR]) are simple and inexpensive to implement at scale. In contrast, imaging-based techniques (e.g. magnetic resonance imaging [MRI] and dual x-ray absorptiometry [DXA]) are expensive and labour intensive, but can provide more accurate quantification of body fat composition. There is, however, limited evidence about the relationship between conventional and imaging-derived measures of adiposity. METHODS: We searched Scopus and Web of Science for published reports in English of conventional versus imaging-derived measurements of adiposity. We identified 42 articles (MRI = 22; DXA = 20) that met selection criteria, involving 42,556 (MRI = 15,130; DXA = 27,426) individuals recruited from community or hospital settings. Study-specific correlation coefficients (r) were transformed using Fisher's Z transformation, and meta-analysed to yield weighted average correlations, both overall and by ancestry, sex and age, where feasible. Publication bias was investigated using funnel plots and Egger's test. RESULTS: Overall, 98% of participants were 18 + years old, 85% male and 95% White. BMI and WC were most strongly correlated with imaging-derived total abdominal (MRI-derived: r = 0.88-; DXA-derived: 0.50-0.86) and subcutaneous abdominal fat (MRI-derived: 0.83-0.85), but were less strongly correlated with visceral abdominal fat (MRI-derived: 0.76-0.79; DXA-derived: 0.80) and with DXA-derived %body fat (0.76). WHR was, at best, strongly correlated with imaging-derived total abdominal (MRI-derived: 0.60; DXA-derived: 0.13), and visceral abdominal fat (MRI-derived: 0.67; DXA-derived: 0.65), and moderately with subcutaneous abdominal (MRI-derived: 0.54), and with DXA-derived %body fat (0.58). All conventional adiposity measures were at best moderately correlated with hepatic fat (MRI-derived: 0.36-0.43). In general, correlations were stronger in women than in men, in Whites than in non-Whites, and in those aged 18 + years. CONCLUSIONS: In this meta-analysis, BMI and WC, but not WHR, were very strongly correlated with imaging-derived total and subcutaneous abdominal fat. By comparison, all three measures were moderately or strongly correlated with imaging-based visceral abdominal fat, with WC showing the greatest correlation. No anthropometric measure was substantially correlated with hepatic fat. Further larger studies are needed to compare these measures within the same study population, and to assess their relevance for disease risks in diverse populations.

Original publication




Journal article


BMC Med Imaging

Publication Date





Adiposity, Anthropometric, Correlation, DXA, Imaging, MRI, meta-analysis, Humans, Female, Male, Adolescent, Body Composition, Adipose Tissue, Anthropometry, Diagnostic Imaging, Body Mass Index, Obesity