Anthropometric Measurements: Body Shape and Dimensions

Anthropometric measurements are those which characterize human body dimensions — size and shape. These measurements are primarily of bone, muscle, and adipose tissue (fat). The word combines the Greek root words anthropos (human) and metron (measure).

Typical Anthropometric Measurements

  • Height, standing
  • Height, sitting
  • Weight
  • Waist circumference
  • Waist to hip ratio
  • Waist to height ratio
  • BMI (weight in kilograms divided by square of height in meters)
  • Grip strength
  • Skinfold body fat measurement

Scientific Research

Anthropometric measurements are valuable in scientific research because if recorded using standardized methods, they are objective and not prone to the perceptions or opinions of the scientists involved. In longitudinal studies, certain basic measurements like waist circumference can reveal risk factors for age-related illnesses like heart disease or cancer.

Ergonomics Design and Industry

In industrial applications like ergonomics, anthropometric measurements help manufacturers create furniture that is tailored to the human body. In automotive design, anthropometry involves taking standard measurements for average adult drivers to test cars and other vehicles for the effectiveness of their safety systems.

Ongoing measurements are needed as populations change in height, weight and other dimensions. As a population gets taller overall, as often happens with better nutrition, the items used in everyday life must be able to accommodate taller people.

Similarly, as the population includes more and more people who are overweight or obese, designs for everything from clothing to chairs to average weight capacity of elevators may need to be adjusted.

If childhood obesity rises, items for children need to include the consideration that more of them may be overweight. Some populations of children have earlier growth spurts and puberty, which needs to be a consideration when designing for those age groups.

Anthropometric Databases

There are many databases of anthropometric data accumulated over years to decades. Often these were collected originally by the military.

  • Army Anthropometric Survey (ANSUR): Published in 1988, it has hundreds of different measures for both men and women, although it is weak for some target populations and high BMI-individuals. That makes sense as it was collected originally from troops who were required to keep under certain body weight, and would have included far fewer women than men.
  • NHANES: the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey includes body measurements, varying for infants vs. toddlers through adolescents and adults. Weight, standing height, upper leg length, upper arm length, mid-upper arm circumference, waist circumference, sagittal abdominal diameter are measured for most subjects, with head circumference and recumbent length for infants. These measures change from year to year.
  • CAESAR: Civilian American and European Surface Anthropometry Resource have both 3-D body scan measurements as well as traditional 1-D measurements of thousands of individuals aged 18-65 from 1998-2000. It is used in many industries for design. if you are designing a chair, a desk or a car you would want access to these you can ensure your product will work for most people.
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