A method for measuring human body composition using digital images.

Academic Article


  • BACKGROUND/OBJECTIVES: Body mass index (BMI) is a proxy for obesity that is commonly used in spite of its limitation in estimating body fatness. Trained observers with repeated exposure to different body types can estimate body fat (BF) of individuals compared to criterion methods with reasonable accuracy. The purpose of this study was to develop and validate a computer algorithm to provide a valid estimate %BF using digital photographs. SUBJECTS/METHODS: Our sample included 97 children and 226 adults (age in years: 11.3±3.3; 38.1±11.6, respectively). Measured height and weight were used (BMI in kg/m2: 20.4±4.4; 28.7±6.6 for children and adults, respectively). Dual x-ray absorptiometry (DXA) was the criterion method. Body volume (BVPHOTO) and body shape (BSPHOTO) were derived from two digital images. Final support vector regression (SVR) models were trained using age, sex, race, BMI for % BFNOPHOTO, plus BVPHOTO and BSPHOTO for %BFPHOTO. Separate validation models were used to evaluate the learning algorithm in children and adults. The differences in correlations between %BFDXA, %BFNOPHOTO and %BFPHOTO were tested using the Fisher's Z-score transformation. RESULTS: Mean BFDXA and BFPHOTO were 27.0%±9.2 vs. 26.7%± 7.4 in children and 32.9± 10.4% vs. 32.8%±9.3 in adults. SVR models produced %BFPHOTO values strongly correlated with %BFDXA. Our final model produced correlations of rDP = 0.80 and rDP = 0.87 in children and adults, respectively for %BFPHOTO vs. %BFDXA. The correlation between %BFNOPHOTO and %BFDXA was moderate, yet statistically significant in both children rDB = 0.70; p <0.0001 and adults rDB = 0.86; p<0.0001. However, the correlations for rDP were statistically higher than rDB (%BFDXA vs. %BFNOPHOTO) in both children and adults (children: Z = 5.95, p<0.001; adults: Z = 3.27, p<0.0001). CONCLUSIONS: Our photographic method produced valid estimates of BF in both children and adults. Further research is needed to create norms for subgroups by sex, race/ethnicity, and mobility status.
  • Published In

  • PLoS ONE  Journal
  • Digital Object Identifier (doi)

    Author List

  • Affuso O; Pradhan L; Zhang C; Gao S; Wiener HW; Gower B; Heymsfield SB; Allison DB
  • Start Page

  • e0206430
  • Volume

  • 13
  • Issue

  • 11