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Body composition, energy expenditure and physical activity

Relationship between BMI and body fatness in three European countries



Body fatness and heart disease risk factors can differ considerably between ethnities for a given body mass index (BMI). Information is lacking on differences between various Caucasian populations within Europe. The aim was to investigate the differences in anthropometrics and risk factors between adults from Iceland, Spain and Ireland.


This was a secondary analysis of the baseline data from the SEAFOODplus YOUNG intervention study, in which 324 subjects (20–40 years, BMI 27.5–32.5 kg/m2, from Iceland, Spain and Ireland) participated. Fasting glucose, insulin, blood lipids and body compossition were measured, insulin resistance was calculated using the homeostasis model assessment of insulin resistance.


Although age and BMI did not differ between Spanish, Irish and Icelandic subjects, Irish subjects had significantly higher waist circumference (3.2 and 6.7 cm) and body fat percentage (4.4 and 2.0%) compared with Icelandic and Spanish participants, respectively. Irish participants had also more unfavorable cardio-metabolic risk factors compared with Spanish and Icelandic subjects. However, correction for waist attenuated the observed differences considerably, in particular for total cholesterol, low-density lipoprotein and triglycerides.


Despite having near identical BMI and age, our results show that study participants from different populations within Europe differ considerably in cardio-metabolic risk factors, partly due to differences in body fat distribution.

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The YOUNG study is part of the SEAFOODplus Integrated Project, which is funded by the European Commission through the 6th Framework Programme Contract with ref. FOOD-CT-2004-506359. Thus, thanks are due to the EU Commission for financial support as well as to the volunteers participating in the study. The trial is registered at the US National Library of Medicine (Nr. NCT00315770).

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Correspondence to A Ramel.

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Ramel, A., Halldorsson, T., Tryggvadottir, E. et al. Relationship between BMI and body fatness in three European countries. Eur J Clin Nutr 67, 254–258 (2013).

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  • BMI
  • country difference
  • waist circumference
  • body fat
  • anthropometry.


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