Comparison of percent body fat estimates using air displacement plethysmography and hydrodensitometry in adults and children

Ellen W. Demerath, S. S. Guo, W. C. Chumlea, B. Towne, A. F. Roche, R. M. Siervogel

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

109 Scopus citations


PURPOSE: The purpose of the study was to compare estimates of body density and percentage body fat from air displacement plethysmography (ADP) to those from hydrodensitometry (HD) in adults and children and to provide a review of similar recent studies. METHODS: Body density and percentage body fat (% BF) were assessed by ADP and HD on the same day in 87 adults aged 18-69y (41 males and 46 females) and 39 children aged 8-17y (19 males and 20 females). Differences between measured and predicted thoracic gas volumes determined during the ADP procedure and the resultant effects of those differences on body composition estimates were also compared. In a subset of 50 individuals (31 adults and 19 children), reliability of ADP was measured and the relative ease or difficulty of ADP and HD were probed with a questionnaire. RESULTS: The coefficient of reliability between %BF on day 1 and day 2 was 96.4 in adults and 90.1 in children, and the technical error of measurement of 1.6% in adults and 1.8% in children. Using a predicted rather than a measured thoracic gas volume did not significantly affect percentage body fat estimates in adults, but resulted in overestimates of percentage body fat in children. Mean percentage body fat from ADP was higher than percentage body fat from HD, although this was statistically significant only in adults (29.3 vs 27.7%, P < 0.05). The 95% confidence interval of the between-method differences for all subjects was -7 to +9% body fat, and the root mean square error (r.m.s.e.) was approximately 4% body fat. In the subset of individuals who were asked to compare the two methods, 46 out of 50 (92%) indicated that they preferred the ADP to HD. CONCLUSION: ADP is a reliable method of measuring body composition that subjects found preferable to underwater weighing. However, as shown here and in most other studies, there are differences in percentage body fat estimates assessed by the two methods, perhaps related to body size, age or other factors, that are sufficient to preclude ADP from being used interchangeably with underwater weighing on an individual basis.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)389-397
Number of pages9
JournalInternational Journal of Obesity
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2002

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We gratefully acknowledge Alesha Patterson, Derrick Coleman, Merita Moffitt and Jean Payne for their technical assistance with this study. Funding was provided through a Research Challenge Grant from Wright State University, NIH HD12252 and NIH HD27063.


  • Adults
  • Air displacement plethysmography
  • Body composition
  • Children


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