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Measuring Body Fat

As a society we have become almost obsessed with diets, weight and food. When it comes to weighing ourselves most families have a pair of traditional weighing scales in their bathroom. This is beginning to change as more people recognise that a much truer picture of whether you are overweight or not is gained when analysing body fat.

Weighing scales measure everything from muscle, fat, bones but lean muscle tissue weighs more than fat. Consequently two people with the same weight can have very different body compositions, furthermore the one with a higher fat percentage may visually appear overweight the other with more muscle may not. Measuring body fat using a body fat monitor or one of the methods outlined below will provide a better understanding.

Measuring body fat is important for health reasons. Having too much body fat can lead to health problems like heart disease, diabetes, high cholesterol and other serious conditions. If you keep your body fat within a reasonable level, you'll be healthier and, of course, slimmer.

Women have a higher body fat percentage than men. This is typically around 25%-31%. Men on average have a body fat reading of 18-25%. See the body fat ranges chart for a more in-depth break down (under fat, over fat, obese for different sexes and age ranges).

There are a number of methods for testing body fat. Below are the most popular methods for testing body composition the pages on the left going in to each of these methods in more detail.

(dual energy X-ray absorptiometry)

DEXA uses 2 low dose x rays and a whole body scanner. This method reads bone mass and soft tissue mass. The Dexa test takes 10-20 minutes and is very accurate, with a 2-3% margin of error.

Hydrostatic Weighing

Hydrostatic Weighing is underwater weighing. A fairly accurate (2-3% margin of error) test involving the individual sitting on a scale inside a tank of water. They are then required to blow out as much air as they can.

Bioelectrical Impedance - Body Fat Monitors

A very quick and easy way to test body fat is using a BIA scale (Bioelectrical Impedance Scale, often called a Body Fat Monitor). Using a standing or handheld scale a safe, low electrical current passes through the body and measures body composition and the % of body fat you have. This can be every accurate too but is affected by hydration, food intake and skin temperature.

The Pinch Test using Callipers

The pinch test users callipers to measure skinfold thickness at various points on the body that are reflect total body fat. A cheap method, but accuracy may not be very good.