Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) was used to evaluate and compare with anthropometry a fundamental bioelectrical impedance analysis (BIA) method for predicting muscle and adipose tissue composition in the lower limb. Healthy volunteers (eight men and eight women), aged 41 to 62 years, with mean (S.D.) body mass indices of 28.6 (5.4) kg/m2 and 25.1 (5.4) kg/m2 respectively, were subjected to MRI leg scans, from which 20-cm sections of thigh and 10-cm sections of lower leg (calf) were analysed for muscle and adipose tissue content, using specifically developed software. Muscle and adipose tissue were also predicted from anthropometric measurements of circumferences and skinfold thicknesses, and by use of fundamental BIA equations involving section impedance at 50 kHz and tissue-specific resistivities. Anthropometric assessments of circumferences, cross-sectional areas and volumes for total constituent tissues matched closely MRI estimates. Muscle volume was substantially overestimated (bias: thigh, -40%; calf, -18%) and adipose tissue underestimated (bias: thigh, 43%; calf, 8%) by anthropometry, in contrast to generally better predictions by the fundamental BIA approach for muscle (bias: thigh, -12%; calf, 5%) and adipose tissue (bias: thigh, 17%; calf, -28%). However, both methods demonstrated considerable individual variability (95% limits of agreement 20–77%). In general, there was similar reproducibility for anthropometric and fundamental BIA methods in the thigh (inter-observer residual coefficient of variation for muscle 3.5% versus 3.8%), but the latter was better in the calf (inter-observer residual coefficient of variation for muscle 8.2% versus 4.5%). This study suggests that the fundamental BIA method has advantages over anthropometry for measuring lower limb tissue composition in healthy individuals.

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