Diagnostic performance of body mass index to identify obesity as defined by body adiposity in children and adolescents: A systematic review and meta-analysis

A. Javed, M. Jumean, M. H. Murad, D. Okorodudu, S. Kumar, V. K. Somers, O. Sochor, F. Lopez-Jimenez

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

144 Scopus citations


Background The ideal means of identifying obesity in children and adolescents has not been determined although body mass index (BMI) is the most widely used screening tool. Objective We performed a systematic review and meta-analysis of studies assessing the diagnostic performance of BMI to detect adiposity in children up to 18 years. Methods Data sources were EMBASE, MEDLINE, Cochrane, Database of Systematic Reviews Cochrane CENTRAL, Web of Science and SCOPUS up to March 2013. Studies providing measures of diagnostic performance of BMI and using body composition technique for body fat percentage measurement were included. Results Thirty-seven eligible studies that evaluated 53 521 patients, with mean age ranging from 4 to 18 years were included in the meta-analysis. Commonly used BMI cut-offs for obesity showed pooled sensitivity to detect high adiposity of 0.73 (confidence interval [CI] 0.67-0.79), specificity of 0.93 (CI 0.88-0.96) and diagnostic odds ratio of 36.93 (CI 20.75-65.71). Males had lower sensitivity. Moderate heterogeneity was observed (I2 = 48%) explained in meta-regression by differences across studies in race, BMI cut-off, BMI reference criteria (Center for Disease Control vs. International Obesity Task Force) and reference standard method assessing adiposity. Conclusion BMI has high specificity but low sensitivity to detect excess adiposity and fails to identify over a quarter of children with excess body fat percentage.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)234-244
Number of pages11
JournalPediatric obesity
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jun 1 2015



  • Body mass index
  • meta-analysis
  • paediatric obesity
  • systematic review

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health
  • Health Policy
  • Nutrition and Dietetics
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health

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