Approximation of total visceral adipose tissue with a single magnetic resonance image

Ellen W. Demerath, Wei Shen, Miryoung Lee, Audrey C. Choh, Stefan A. Czerwinski, Roger M. Siervogel, Bradford Towne

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

110 Scopus citations


Background: A single axial image measured between the 4th and 5th lumbar vertebrae (L4-L5) is most frequently chosen to approximate total abdominal visceral adipose tissue (VAT) volume, but growing evidence suggests that this measurement site is not ideal. Objective: The objective was to determine the single magnetic resonance (MR) image that best approximates the total VAT volume in a biracial sample of healthy subjects. Design: We used contiguous abdominal MR images to measure VAT area and summed them to determine total VAT volume. The sample included 820 healthy men and women (n = 692 whites, 128 blacks) aged 18-88 y. Results: A range of MR images had equally high correlations with total VAT in each race and sex group. The image 6 cm above L4-L5 (L4-L5 + 6) was within the best equivalent range for all race and sex groups. The L4-L5 + 6 image crossed the L3 vertebra in 85% of subjects and crossed the L2-L3 intervertebral space or the L2 vertebra for15%of subjects. Linear regression models indicated that the L4-L5 + 6 image explained 97% of the variance in total abdominal VAT volume, and additional covariates did not increase the R2 value significantly. The L4-L5 image explained 83% of the variance in VAT volume, and the covariates accounted for an additional 7% of the variance. Rank-order values for VAT can change if total VAT volume is approximated by a single image area. Whereas 25% of subjects changed rank by ≥10% with the L4-L5 image, only 3% changed rank to that degree with the L4-L5 + 6 image. Conclusions: A single MR image located approximately at the L3 vertebra can accurately estimate total VAT volume in blacks and whites of both sexes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)362-368
Number of pages7
JournalAmerican Journal of Clinical Nutrition
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 1 2007


  • Adipose tissue
  • Adiposity
  • Magnetic resonance imaging
  • Race differences
  • Sex differences
  • Subcutaneous adipose tissue
  • Visceral adipose tissue


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