Measurement of body composition is proving increasingly important in clinical nutrition and research. Skinfold thickness is a simple means of estimating body composition which is widely used in children, but there is little information on its validity. There has been a proliferation of equations for estimation of body composition from skinfolds, but some doubt as to their general applicability. The aim of the present study was to validate five currently used equations for this purpose in a sample of 98 healthy prepubertal children (64 boys, 34 girls), mean (SD) age 9.1 (1.7) years by comparison of estimates from each equation with measurements of fatness derived from hydrodensitometry. Differences between methods were determined by calculation of biases and limits of agreement. Limits of agreement between predicted and measured fatness were wide, particularly in the girls, and some distinct biases were apparent. Choice of prediction equation therefore has a substantial influence on the estimate of fatness obtained when using skinfolds in children. The existing published equations are associated with large random errors or significant systematic errors. For the time being skinfolds might best be regarded as indices (rather than measures) of body fatness in individuals, or means of estimating body fatness of groups. Estimating the total body fatness of individual prepubertal children using skinfolds, on the basis of this evidence, is not advisable at present.
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