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Body mass, fat percentage, and fat free mass as reference variables for lung function: effects on terms for age and sex
  1. J E Cotes,
  2. D J Chinn*,
  3. J W Reed
  1. Respiration and Exercise Laboratory, Department of Physiological Sciences, Medical School, Newcastle upon Tyne NE2 4HH, UK
  1. Dr J E CotesCoterie{at}


BACKGROUND Sex specific cross sectional reference values for lung function indices usually employ a linear model with terms for age and stature. The effects of also matching for body mass index (BMI = mass/stature2) or its components, fat percentage of body mass (fat%) and fat free mass index (FFMI = fat free mass/stature2) were studied.

METHODS The subjects were 458 asymptomatic male and female non-smokers (383 men) and 22 female ex-smokers. Measurements were made of ventilatory capacity, lung volumes, transfer factor (diffusing capacity, single breath CO method), and body composition (skinfold method). Linear and proportional regression models were used.

RESULTS Terms for fat% and FFMI significantly improved the accuracy of reference values for all the primary lung function indices. The improvements in subjects with atypical physiques (fat% and FFMI at the ends of the distributions for the subjects) were in the range 0.3–2.3 SD compared with conventional regression equations. The new partial regression coefficients on age were independent of age related changes in body fat. The coefficient for total lung capacity (TLC) on age in men was now positive. Most differences between the sexes were eliminated. A term for BMI improved the descriptions of subdivisions of TLC but lacked the other advantages.

CONCLUSION Allowance for fat% and FFMI increases the accuracy of reference equations for lung function, particularly for subjects with a lot of fat and little muscle or vice versa. Allowance for BMI is less informative.

  • lung function
  • body composition
  • reference values
  • body mass index
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  • * Present address: Postgraduate Institute for Health, University of Teesside, Middlesbrough TS1 3BA, UK

  • Supported by the University of Newcastle upon Tyne.

  • No conflict of interest.

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