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Historically, the measurement of the body and its components centered around cadaver analyses where specific tissues and organs were extracted from the body for inspection. The extraction of tissue samples from the living body was a step forward in allowing for the analyses of tissue morphology in a state more closely resembling the in vivo state. However, both cadaver and in vitro tissue analyses are subject to inaccuracies when extrapolations are being made to the living body. Nevertheless, much of our understanding of human body composition in both children and adults has roots in these approaches. During the twentieth century, significant advances were made in the development of in vivo methods of body composition analysis thanks to the disciplines of physics, engineering, and medicine. Methodologies with minimal or no risk to the participant have allowed for the assessment of body composition in growth and development, aging, and disease.

The physiological significance of knowing the composition of the body greatly depends on the question of interest. Common applications involving medical/clinical diagnoses include osteopenia/osteoporosis; muscle wasting; sarcopenia; lipodystrophy; altered states of hydration; malnutrition; and obesity. There are also metabolic consequences (e.g., insulin resistance) associated with high and low levels of body fat and where the fat is distributed. From a nutritional perspective, the interest in body composition has increased multifold with the global increase in the prevalence of obesity and its complications. This chapter will focus on our current state of body composition knowledge and how this knowledge was determined with the available most advanced methodologies.

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