Although the influence of obesity on pulmonary function tests has been examined, the role of body fat distribution has received limited attention. Pulmonary studies of patients severely affected by upper body obesity suggest they have more severely compromised lung volumes than obese patients with lower body obesity. We examined 42 healthy but normal or mildly obese men to determine if body fat distribution influences pulmonary function tests.
Multiple measures of adiposity showed a significant inverse relationship with both spirometry and static lung volumes. However, the biceps skinfold thickness had the strongest inverse relationship with total lung capacity (TLC) compared to other anthropometric measures. The waist-to-hip ratio (WHR) demonstrated a significant inverse relationship with static lung volumes only when controlling for cigarette smoking. However, comparing pulmonary function tests between patients with a WHR less than 0.950 (lower body fat distribution) and subjects with a WHR of 0.950 or greater (upper body fat distribution revealed that FVC, FEV1, and TLC were significantly lower in the patients with upper body fat distribution. Stepwise multiple regression analysis was done using all anthropometric variables and age which generated predictive equations that included the biceps skinfold thickness for residual volume (RV) and TLC. This suggests that upper body fat distribution may be associated with a modest impairment of lung volumes in normal and mildly obese men. Until the findings of this study can be applied to a larger, ethnically and anthropometrically diverse population, and to women, we believe caution is warranted when standard equations are used to predict pulmonary function tests in an anthropometrically diverse population.