Skip to main content

Thank you for visiting You are using a browser version with limited support for CSS. To obtain the best experience, we recommend you use a more up to date browser (or turn off compatibility mode in Internet Explorer). In the meantime, to ensure continued support, we are displaying the site without styles and JavaScript.

Body mass index of 0 to 45-y-old Danes: reference values and comparison with published European reference values


OBJECTIVES: To generate body mass index (weight/height2 (kg/m2), BMI) reference values for 0 to 45-y-old Danes and compare these with published European reference values.

SUBJECTS: A national sample used to generate the current Danish height and weight reference (29 106 measurements made 1965–1977; age 0–21 y; sample I), and four samples from Copenhagen (3391 measurements made 1981–1985; age 7–45 y; samples II–III and 2608 measurements made 1991–1994; age 6–45 y; samples IV–V).

DATA ANALYSIS: Using the LMS method, Danish BMI reference values by age and sex were constructed from samples I and II. These were compared with BMI reference values from Sweden (age 6–16 (girls) or 6–19 y (boys)), Germany (6–19 y), UK (0–23 y), and France (0–87 y). Two recently examined but smaller Danish cohorts (samples IV and V) were compared with the reference values to assess the secular trend in BMI.

RESULTS: Overall, Danish BMI reference values (samples I and II) fitted best with French reference values and were systematically below UK, Swedish and German reference values. However, the BMI centiles of young adult Danish women were above French reference values and the BMI of Danes was substantially below French and UK reference values during the first months of life. The mean BMI Z-score of the recently examined samples was 0.24 (sample IV, P=0.0001) and 0.15 (sample V, P=0.0001) based on the French reference values and 0.19 (sample IV, P=0.0007) and 0.01 (sample V, P=0.49) based on the Danish reference values.

CONCLUSION: For clinical purposes, we recommend comparing the BMI of Danish children and adolescents with the present Danish reference values and the new IOTF cut-off values and comparing the BMI of Danish adults with the WHO cut-off values. For research purposes, cut-off values and national or internationally used BMI reference values may be used, depending on the research questions.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution

Relevant articles

Open Access articles citing this article.

Access options

Buy article

Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.


All prices are NET prices.

Figure 1
Figure 2


  1. Cole TJ . Weight-stature indices to measure underweight, overweight, and obesity. In: Himes JH (ed). Anthropometric Assessment of Nutritional Status Wiley-Liss: New York 1991 83–111.

    Google Scholar 

  2. Poskitt EM . Defining childhood obesity: the relative body mass index (BMI). European Childhood Obesity group Acta Paediatr 1995 84: 961–963.

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  3. Bellizzi MC, Dietz WH . Workshop on childhood obesity: summary of the discussion Am J Clin Nutr 1999 70: 173S–175S.

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  4. Rolland-Cachera MF, Cole TJ, Sempé M, Tichet J, Rossignol C, Charraud A . Body mass index variations: centiles from birth to 87 years Eur J Clin Nutr 1991 45: 13–21.

    CAS  Google Scholar 

  5. Andersen E, Hutchings B, Jansen J, Nyholm M . Højde og vægt hos danske børn. [Heights and weights of Danish children.] Ugeskr Laeger 1982 144: 1760–1765.

    CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  6. Andersen E, Andersen H, Hutchings B, Peitersen B, Rosen J, Thamdrup E, Wichmann R, Nyholm M . Højde og vægt hos danske skolebørn 1971–1972. [Heights and weights in Danish school children in 1971–1972.] Ugeskr Laeger 1974 136: 2796–2802.

    CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  7. Roed J, Larsen PB, Ibsen KK . Højde hos en population af storkøbenhavnske børn i alderen 7–18 år, 1981 og 1985. Østerbro-undersøgelsens børneundersøgelse. [Body height in a population of children in Greater Copenhagen 7 to 18 y of age in 1981 and 1985. The Østerbro child study.] Ugeskr Laeger 1989 151: 895–897.

    CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  8. Appleyard M (ed) . The Copenhagen City Heart Study: Østerbroundersøgelsen: a book of tables with data from the first examination (1976–78) and a five year follow-up (1981–83) Scand J Social Med Suppl 1987 41

  9. Mølgaard C, Thomsen BL, Prentice A, Cole TJ, Michaelsen KF . Whole body bone mineral content in healthy children and adolescents. [See comments.] Arch Dis Child 1997 76: 9–15.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  10. Lange P, Parner J, Vestbo J, Schnohr P, Jensen G . A 15-year follow-up study of ventilatory function in adults with asthma New Engl J Med 1998 339: 1194–1200.

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  11. Andersen LB, Vestbo J, Juel K, Bjerg AM, Keiding N, Jensen G, Hein HO, Sørensen TIA . A comparison of mortality rates in three prospective studies from Copenhagen with mortality rates in the central part of the city, and the entire country. Copenhagen Center for Prospective Population Studies Eur J Epidemiol 1998 14: 579–585.

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  12. Lindgren G, Strandell A, Cole TJ, Healy M, Tanner J . Swedish population reference standards for height, weight and body mass index attained at 6 to 16 y (girls) or 19 y (boys) Acta Paediatr 1995 84: 1019–1028.

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  13. Schaefer F, Georgi M, Wuhl E, Scharer K . Body mass index and percentage fat mass in healthy German schoolchildren and adolescents Int J Obes Relat Metab Disord 1998 22: 461–469.

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  14. Cole TJ, Freeman JV, Preece MA . Body mass index reference curves for the UK, 1990 Arch Dis Child 1995 73: 25–29.

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  15. Cole TJ, Green PJ . Smoothing reference centile curves: the LMS method and penalized likelihood Stat Med 1992 11: 1305–1319.

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  16. Cole TJ, Freeman JV, Preece MA . British 1990 growth reference centiles for weight, height, body mass index and head circumference fitted by maximum penalized likelihood Stat Med 1998 17: 407–429.

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  17. SAS Institute Inc . SAS/STAT(R) User's Guide, Version 6, 4th revised SAS Institute Inc: Cary, NC 1989.

  18. WHO . Obesity: preventing and managing the global epidemic. Report of a WHO consultation on obesity, Geneva, 3–5 June 1997 WHO: Geneva 1998.

  19. Assessment of Childhood and Adolescent Obesity, Generva, 3–5 June 1997 . Results from an International Obesity Task Force workshop. Dublin, June 16, 1997 Am J Clin Nutr 1999 70: 117S–175S.

  20. Cole TJ, Bellizzi MC, Flegal KM, Dietz WH . Establishing a standard definition for child overweight and obesity worldwide: international survey Br Med J 2000 320: 1240–1243.

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  21. Nysom K, Holm K, Michaelsen KF, Hertz H, Müller J, Mølgaard C . Degree of fatness after treatment for acute lymphoblastic leukaemia in childhood J Clin Endocrinol Metab 1999 84: 4591–4596.

    CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  22. Odame I, Reilly JJ, Gibson BE, Donaldson MD . Patterns of obesity in boys and girls after treatment for acute lymphoblastic leukaemia. [See comments.] Arch Dis Child 1994 71: 147–149.

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  23. Van Dongen-Melman J, Hokken Koelega AC, Hahlen K, De Groot A, Tromp CG, Egeler RM . Obesity after successful treatment of acute lymphoblastic leukemia in childhood Pediatr Res 1995 38: 86–90.

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  24. Dietz WH, Bellizzi MC . Introduction: the use of body mass index to assess obesity in children Am J Clin Nutr 1999 70: 123S–125S.

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  25. Pietrobelli A, Faith MS, Allison DB, Gallagher D, Chiumello G, Heymsfield SB . Body mass index as a measure of adiposity among children and adolescents: a validation study. [See comments.] J Pediatr 1998 132: 204–210.

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  26. Michaelsen KF, Petersen S, Greisen G, Thomsen BL . Weight, length, head circumference, and growth velocity in a longitudinal study of Danish infants. [Published erratum appears in Dan Med Bull 1995; 42: 119.] Dan Med Bull 1994 41: 577–585.

    CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  27. Kuskowska-Wolk A, Bergstrom R . Trends in body mass index and prevalence of obesity in Swedish men 1980–89 J Epidemiol Community Health 1993 47: 103–108.

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  28. Kuskowska-Wolk A, Bergstrom R . Trends in body mass index and prevalence of obesity in Swedish women 1980–89 J Epidemiol Community Health 1993 47: 195–199.

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  29. Prentice AM . Body mass index standards for children. Are useful for clinicians but not yet for epidemiologists Br Med J 1998 317: 1401–1402.

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

Download references


We thank Else Andersen, Jette Jansen, and Merete Appleyard for access to the original data from the Danish surveys. We thank the Child Growth Foundation, London, and MF Rolland-Cachera, Paris, for BMI reference data. We thank Tim Cole for helpful comments on LMS modelling of BMI. Karsten Nysom received financial support from the Torkil Steenbeck Foundation, the Ville Heise Foundation, and the Rosalie Petersen Foundation.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Corresponding author

Correspondence to K Nysom.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Nysom, K., Mølgaard, C., Hutchings, B. et al. Body mass index of 0 to 45-y-old Danes: reference values and comparison with published European reference values. Int J Obes 25, 177–184 (2001).

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Revised:

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI:


  • body mass index
  • child
  • adult
  • reference values
  • Denmark
  • Europe

This article is cited by


Quick links