There is an interesting juxtaposition in American society: at one end of the spectrum an increasingly-overweight population, and the other side with an increasingly well-informed, health-conscious consumer. Every day, people are bombarded with signs pointing us to the latest in weight loss concepts—the most fashionable diets or exercise routines, calorie-cutting supplements, or breakthrough medical procedures. Dieting and exercise can be a complex problem since it’s important when losing weight to monitor losing fatty tissue vs. losing fat-free tissue, in essence, separating the bad from the good. From the self-conscious health-fanatics to those who just want to drop a little weight, there are many options to choose from when it comes to measuring body fat percentage.
The most common method of measuring body fat percentage is the skin fold caliper test whereby folds of skin are compressed and then measured with a pair of calipers. This method is fairly accurate but necessitates the assistance of someone else to get a proper reading as it requires multiple body sites for a true reading. This method is accurate only so far as whether you are repeatedly measuring the exact same sites over time for a thorough reading and it doesn’t have easily reproduced results.
The anthropometric method is very similar, using measuring tape to measure body circumference for waist, neck and height measurements and then compares that data on a national chart ranking where your measurements place you. The anthropometric method is considered the least accurate because it doesn’t actually measure the individual’s body fat percentage and only provides general data for a comparative chart.
The “Gold Standard” (+/- 1.5% error) method of measuring body fat percentage is a method called hydrostatic weighing, which is a very accurate test involving submerging the person in a specialized tank of water for around 20 to 30 minutes. It is relatively expensive and costs around $150 per test. The other disadvantage is that it is only available at research labs, universities or hospitals. For the average person, it is a rather impractical choice.
Another accurate yet impractical method is a DEXA scan, which is a medical X-ray scan traditionally used for measuring bone mineral density for osteoporosis in elderly patients. The scan is based on a three-compartment model that divides the body into total body mineral, fat-free soft mass, and fat tissue mass. This also provides for body fat distribution analysis, which allows you to see specifically where the fat is distributed in the body. The DEXA scan takes around 20 minutes and runs around $250, It is also only readily available at hospitals, research labs and universities.
The most practical method for an individual is Bioelectric Impedance Analysis, or BIA. The technology involved using BIA has made vast improvements over the years, and though it isn’t a “Gold Standard” it has become very reliable as a means for economically determining body fat percentage. BIA determines the electrical impedance, or opposition to the flow of an electric current through a medium, in this case, body tissue, which can then be used to calculate an estimate of total body water. This can then be used to estimate fat-free body mass, from which when compared to total body weight, the body fat percentage can be derived.
Among the top personal scales available to consumers is Detecto’s ProDoc body fat analysis series of clinical-grade scales, which are equipped with Body Mass Index calculators as well as BIA technology. These Detecto scales are capable of estimating body fat percentage, as well as total body water percentage, bone mass and fat-free body mass. The use of BIA technology in personal scales as a method of measuring Body Fat Percentage has significantly increased over the years because the equipment is portable, relatively inexpensive and safe, the procedure is simple and noninvasive, and the results are reproducible and rapidly obtained.
Click here to find out more about Detecto’s ProDoc series body fat analysis scales.