Anthropometric Measurements in Australian Aborigines

  • Srinivas Kondalsamy-Chennakesavan
  • Leonard S. Piers
  • Sidya Raghavan
  • Kerin O’Dea


Aborigines have inhabited Australia for many thousands of years. They led a ‘hunter-gatherer’ lifestyle prior to European contact. They are known to have lower sitting-height to stature ratio with long legs, relatively short trunks and narrow across the torso and hips (a ‘linear’ body build). European expeditions in the early twentieth century confirm that overweight and obesity was rarely observed. In the second half of the twentieth century, the traditional lifestyle of Aborigines had transitioned to a westernised lifestyle. Associated with such a transition to western lifestyle is the epidemic of non-communicable chronic health conditions such as diabetes, cardio-vascular diseases and renal failure. Average weight and Body Mass Index (BMI) of Aborigines have increased over time. However, this increase is not uniform across Aboriginal Australia. There are major differences in the body habitus profile between different clan groups/communities. In spite of these variations, the pattern of preferential central obesity in both men and women is uniform in almost all the communities. This could have provided a survival advantage under conditions of traditional lifestyle (with its ‘feast-and-famine’ pattern of food intake) experienced by Aborigines prior to European contact. Our studies have shown that BMI significantly underestimated overweight and obesity when compared to other indices of body fat. Aborigines have preferential central fat deposition and exhibit consistently higher waist-hip ratios when compared to other Australians. Also, prevalences of overweight and obesity depend on the anthropometric definitions used. The relationship of surrogate estimates of body composition such as S4 for subcutaneous fat and height2/resistance for FFM (fat free mass) to body weight and BMI are significantly different between Aboriginal people and European Australians. Even at lower levels of body habitus profiles, Aborigines have increased risk for chronic conditions. Also, anthropometric characteristics differ substantially among different Aboriginal communities and stereotyping and generalisations should be avoided.


Body Mass Index Waist Circumference Visceral Adipose Tissue Aboriginal People Torres Strait Islander 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



Australian Bureau of Statistics


Abdominal- height ratio


Appendicular skeletal muscle mass


Australian diabetes, obesity and lifestyle study


Bioelectrical impedance analysis


Bone mineral density


Body mass index


Computer assisted tomography


Cardiovascular disease


Dual energy x-ray absorptiometry


Fat free mass


Fat mass


Carotid intima-media thickness


Metabolic syndrome


Magnetic resonance imaging


Northern territory


New Zealand


South Africa


Skinfold thickness


Visceral adipose tissue


Western Australia


World Health Organisation


Waist-hip ratio


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Srinivas Kondalsamy-Chennakesavan
    • 1
    • 2
  • Leonard S. Piers
  • Sidya Raghavan
  • Kerin O’Dea
  1. 1.School of MedicineThe University of QueenslandBrisbaneAustralia
  2. 2.Royal Brisbane and Women’s HospitalBrisbaneAustralia

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