- 1ProSciento, San Diego, California, USA.
- 2Scripps Center for Organ Transplantation, La Jolla, California, USA.
Introduction: Excess body fat is linked to higher risks for metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes mellitus (T2DM), and cardiovascular disease (CV), among other health conditions. However, it is not only the level but also the distribution of body fat that contributes to increased disease risks. For example, an increased level of abdominal fat, or visceral adipose tissue (VAT), is associated with a higher risk of nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) and nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH).
Methods: A review of the most relevant primary and secondary sources on body composition from the last 25 years was conducted. Relevant articles were identified using PUBMED and Google Scholar. Narrative synthesis was performed as statistical pooling was not possible due to the heterogeneous nature of the studies.
Results: The body mass index (BMI) is commonly used as a proxy measure of body fatness. However, BMI does not reflect the level and distribution of body fat. Other anthropometric methods such as waist circumference measurement and waist-hip ratio, as well as methodologies like hydro densitometry, bioelectrical impedance, and isotope dilution are also limited in their ability to determine body fat distribution. Imaging techniques to define body composition have greatly improved performance over traditional approaches. Ultrasound (US), computed tomography (CT), dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry (DXA), magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), are now commonly used in clinical research. Of these, MRI can provide the most accurate and high-resolution measure of body composition. In addition, MRI techniques are considered the best for the determination of fat at the organ level. On the other hand, imaging modalities require specialized, often expensive equipment and expert operation.
Conclusions: Anthropometric methods are suitable for rapid, high-volume screening of subjects but do not provide information on body fat distribution. Imaging techniques are more accurate but are expensive and do not lend themselves for high throughput. Therefore, successful trial strategies require a tiered approach in which subjects are first screened using anthropometric methods followed by more sophisticated modalities during the execution of the trial. This article provides a brief description of the most clinically relevant adipose tissue measurement techniques and discusses their value in obesity, diabetes, and NAFLD/NASH clinical research.