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Accurate measures of visceral and abdominal subcutaneous fat are essential for investigating the pathophysiology of obesity. Classical anthropometric measures such as waist and hip circumference cannot distinguish between these two fat depots. Direct imaging methods such as computed tomography and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) are restricted in large-scale studies due to practical and ethical issues. We aimed to establish whether ultrasound is a valid alternative method to MRI for the quantitative assessment of abdominal fat depots in older individuals. The study population comprised 74 white individuals (41 men and 33 women, aged 67-76 years) participating in the Hertfordshire Birth Cohort Physical Activity trial. Anthropometry included height, weight, waist and hip circumferences. Abdominal fat was measured by ultrasound in two compartments: visceral fat defined as the depth from the peritoneum to the lumbar spine; and subcutaneous fat defined as the depth from the skin to the abdominal muscles and compared to reference measures by MRI (10-mm single-slice image). Ultrasound measures were positively correlated with MRI measures of visceral and subcutaneous fat (visceral: r = 0.82 and r = 0.80 in men and women, respectively; subcutaneous: r = 0.63 and 0.68 in men and women, respectively). In multiple regression models, the addition of ultrasound measures significantly improved the prediction of visceral fat and subcutaneous fat in both men and women over and above the contribution of standard anthropometric variables. In conclusion, ultrasound is a valid method to estimate visceral fat in epidemiological studies of older men and women when MRI and computed tomography are not feasible.

Original publication




Journal article


Obesity (Silver Spring, Md.)

Publication Date





625 - 631


MRC Epidemiology Unit, Institute of Metabolic Science, Addenbrooke's Hospital, Cambridge, UK.


Hip, Humans, Body Weight, Magnetic Resonance Imaging, Ultrasonography, Anthropometry, Body Height, Reproducibility of Results, Reference Values, Aged, Female, Male, Intra-Abdominal Fat, Adiposity, Subcutaneous Fat, Abdominal, Waist Circumference, Obesity, Abdominal