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Segmental bioelectrical impedance analysis: an update

Ward, Leigh C.

Current Opinion in Clinical Nutrition and Metabolic Care: September 2012 - Volume 15 - Issue 5 - p 424–429
doi: 10.1097/MCO.0b013e328356b944

Purpose of review Bioelectrical impedance analysis is a popular, noninvasive and practical method for assessment of body composition. The last decade has seen the development of impedance analyzers designed to assess the composition of body segments as well as the whole body. This review outlines the theoretical basis for segmental impedance analysis, validity and use in practice.

Recent findings Segmental impedance analysis tends to underestimate fat-free mass and overestimate fat mass when compared to reference techniques, although the magnitude of these differences can be small. Performance is improved with population-specific prediction equations; algorithms in-built into instrument firmware should not be relied upon. Prediction of whole-body composition from the sum of the individual segments, although theoretically preferable, shows little advantage over whole body wrist to ankle impedance approaches. Prediction of appendicular skeletal muscle mass, although promising, requires further research. The use of measured impedance data directly as indices of composition, rather than for prediction, has not found extensive application in nutritional research despite its success in other fields.

Summary Segmental bioimpedance techniques have advanced substantially in recent years due to availability of simple-to-use analyzers and simplified measurement protocols. The method has been well validated and increasingly adopted in nutritional and clinical practice. Segmental impedance, like conventional whole body impedance approaches, provides indirect prediction of body composition whose accuracy is yet to achieve that of reference techniques such as magnetic reference imaging. This lack of accuracy, however, is outweighed by the method's practicality of use in many settings.

School of Chemistry and Molecular Biosciences, The University of Queensland, St. Lucia, Brisbane, Australia

Correspondence to Associate Professor Leigh C. Ward, School of Chemistry and Molecular Biosciences, The University of Queensland, St Lucia, Brisbane QLD 4072, Australia. Tel: +61 7 3365 4633; fax: +61 7 3365 4699; e-mail:

© 2012 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.