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PLoS By Category | Recent PLoS Articles
Diabetes and Endocrinology - Gastroenterology and Hepatology - Public Health and Epidemiology - Physiology - Biochemistry

Differences between Adiposity Indicators for Predicting All-Cause Mortality in a Representative Sample of United States Non-Elderly Adults
Published: Friday, November 30, 2012
Author: Henry S. Kahn et al.

by Henry S. Kahn, Kai McKeever Bullard, Lawrence E. Barker, Giuseppina Imperatore


Adiposity predicts health outcomes, but this relationship could depend on population characteristics and adiposity indicator employed. In a representative sample of 11,437 US adults (National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, 1988–1994, ages 18–64) we estimated associations with all-cause mortality for body mass index (BMI) and four abdominal adiposity indicators (waist circumference [WC], waist-to-height ratio [WHtR], waist-to-hip ratio [WHR], and waist-to-thigh ratio [WTR]). In a fasting subsample we considered the lipid accumulation product (LAP; [WC enlargement*triglycerides]).

Methods and Findings

For each adiposity indicator we estimated linear and categorical mortality risks using sex-specific, proportional-hazards models adjusted for age, black ancestry, tobacco exposure, and socioeconomic position. There were 1,081 deaths through 2006. Using linear models we found little difference among indicators (adjusted hazard ratios [aHRs] per SD increase 1.2–1.4 for men, 1.3–1.5 for women). Using categorical models, men in adiposity midrange (quartiles 2+3; compared to quartile 1) were not at significantly increased risk (aHRs<1.1) unless assessed by WTR (aHR 1.4 [95%CI 1.0–1.9]). Women in adiposity midrange, however, tended toward elevated risk (aHRs 1.2–1.5), except for black women assessed by BMI, WC or WHtR (aHRs 0.7–0.8). Men or women in adiposity quartile 4 (compared to midrange) were generally at risk (aHRs>1.1), especially black men assessed by WTR (aHR 1.9 [1.4–2.6]) and black women by LAP (aHR 2.2 [1.4–3.5]). Quartile 4 of WC or WHtR carried no significant risk for diabetic persons (aHRs 0.7–1.1), but elevated risks for those without diabetes (aHRs>1.5). For both sexes, quartile 4 of LAP carried increased risks for tobacco-exposed persons (aHRs>1.6) but not for non-exposed (aHRs<1.0).


Predictions of mortality risk associated with top-quartile adiposity vary with the indicator used, sex, ancestry, and other characteristics. Interpretations of adiposity should consider how variation in the physiology and expandability of regional adipose-tissue depots impacts health.