Children's Nutrition Research Center

Body Composition Unit


Body composition studies play a key role in understanding childhood growth and development. Questions such as whether body weight or lean body mass is the best indicator of when premature babies are healthy enough to go home, or whether very chubby babies are more prone to develop cardiovascular problems as adults, can only be answered with research using precise body composition measurements and appropriate standard reference values.

The CNRC Body Composition Laboratory is the only laboratory of its type in the nation that can provide a complete complement of body composition measurements in all populations ranging from low-birth-weight infants to adults. These high-precision measurements are associated with fat, fat-free mass, bone mineral content, total body water, extracellular water, adipose tissue, skeletal muscle, and other important body parameters. These measurements are used in a wide variety of CNRC research studies and in collaborative projects with other organizations. The laboratory also develops and validates new methods for assessing body composition in children. Data from the laboratory’s research is also being used to develop age, gender and ethnic-specific body composition standard references, such those for bone mineral content and bone mineral density.


Why and How We Do Our Research


Many facets of health and growth are closely related to body composition. The body’s mass and proportion of lean tissue, bone mineral, adipose tissue, body water and other components offer a valuable indicator of an individual’s state of health.

Accurate measurement of these parameters can be accomplished with sophisticated instrumentation that provides improved accuracy over simpler anthropometric techniques. We designed and built a state-of-the-art body composition laboratory at the Children’s Nutrition Research Center in Houston, Texas. Many of the instruments were custom designs, such as the whole-body gamma counter (WBC) used to measure total body potassium, an index of the body’s actively metabolizing cell mass. These instruments are among the best in the world for body composition assessment.

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