Imaging body composition in obesity and weight loss: challenges and opportunities.


Obesity is a threat to public health worldwide primarily due to the comorbidities related to visceral adiposity, inflammation, and insulin resistance that increase risk for type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. The translational research portfolio that originally described these risk factors was significantly enhanced by imaging techniques, such as dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry (DEXA), computed tomography (CT), and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). In this article, we briefly review the important contributions of these techniques to understand the role of body composition in the pathogenesis of obesity-related complications. Notably, these imaging techniques have contributed greatly to recent findings identifying gender and racial differences in body composition and patterns of body composition change during weight loss. Although these techniques have the ability to generate good-quality body composition data, each possesses limitations. For example, DEXA is unable to differentiate type of fat, CT has better resolution but provides greater ionizing radiation exposure, and MRI tends to require longer imaging times and specialized equipment for acquisition and analysis. With the serious need for efficacious and cost-effective therapies to appropriately identify and treat at-risk obese individuals, there is greater need for translational tools that can further elucidate the interplay between body composition and the metabolic aberrations associated with obesity. In conclusion, we will offer our perspective on the evolution toward an ideal imaging method for body composition assessment in obesity and weight loss, and the challenges remaining to achieve this goal.