U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government, Department of Justice.

Body Mass Estimation From the Human Skeleton

NCJ Number
Date Published
May 2008
150 pages
Since established methods for estimating average body mass from the skeleton (biomechanical and morphometric) do not currently address the extremes of body mass (e.g., emaciation or obesity), this research examined several different biomechanical methods that pertain to human gait and the accommodations that occur with increased obesity and load bearing.
The study concluded that it is possible to estimate modern human body mass from the skeleton, including the extremes of both emaciation and obesity. Accompanying emaciation, there is an absence of hypertrophic pathologies in conjunction with low bone mineral density. At the other extreme, obese individuals are nearly eight times more likely to have diffuse idiopathic skeletal hyperostosis in the spine compared with non-obese persons. Obese individuals are also seven and eight times more likely to have osteoarthritis of the right and left medial tibiae, respectively. Obesity plays a greater role in the etiology of these degenerative diseases than does aging. These findings support the original hypothesis that cross-sectional area and bone mineral density will have the highest correlation with body mass and body weight. Given that 32.2 percent of the adult American population is considered obese, biological anthropologists should be aware of the skeletal manifestations of this recent trend in the body mass of Americans. This study used data collected from high resolution computed tomographic scans and macroscopic analysis of 150 known modern individuals from the William M. Bass Donated Skeleton Collection at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. 20 figures, 15 tables, and approximately 120 references
Date Published: May 1, 2008