How To Measure Your Body Fat? Are You Healthy?
In case you are not aware, your bodyweight per se doesn't tell the whole story how healthy you really are. So the commonly used BMI (Body Mass Index) method to indicate if you are fat or not isn't that useful.
BMI is calculated by dividing a person's weight in kilograms by their height in metres squared (Wt / Ht x Ht) with the aim of categorizing a person as either underweight, normal weight, overweight, or obese. However, such a basic measurement fails to account for where in the body the fat is located, or the subject has heavy bones and/or muscles.
Visual assessment (such as having a paunch) or pinching yourself on the fat areas might also give other rough indicators if you are healthy or fat but at what point do you consider yourself unhealthy (both being too lean or too fat are unhealthy)?
Hence, finding the percent of bodyfat (see table) you actually have on your body is more important to assess your health status than simply relying on the scale or looks.
Methods to find out the fat percent
There are numerous ways to do so commercially or at home. The accuracy, easy of use and cost differs greatly between each method. Here are some of the common ways:
Dual energy X-ray absorptiometry. Recently considered to be the new "Gold Standard" (not without controversies) in body composition testing. This is a specialized X-ray exam used for a variety of clinical and research applications that provides detailed information about the ratio between fat, muscle and bones in specific parts of your body.
Underwater weighing (hydrodensitometry). Known as "Gold Standard" for many decades.This method relies on the theory that muscle is much denser than fat, so body density can tell us a lot about body composition. It involves sitting on a special chair submerged under water. Your underwater weight or body density is then used to calculate your percentage of body fat.
Air displacement plethysmography. The testing procedure is very similar to underwater weighing – minus the water. With this technique, you're enclosed in a computerized, egg-shaped chamber such as Bod Pod etc . The device measures your weight and volume to determine your body density, then uses these figures to calculate your percentage of body fat.
Cross-sectional imaging methods such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and computerized tomography (CT). These scans can provide the most precise body composition measurements, especially for intra-abdominal fat measurement. They are expensive, however, and are usually not indicated solely for measuring body fat.
Ultrasound. Ultrasound techniques are used to directly measure subcutaneous fat thickness, muscle thickness and quantify intramuscular fat. Quite accurate of estimating fat amount but such ultarsound machine is not cheap.
Bioelectrical impedance analysis (BIA). One of the most widely used methods because of the cost and ease of use. It is often a feature in commercial weighing scale or as a standalone handheld type. It uses the resistance of electrical flow through the body to estimate body fat based on the theory that fat is a poor conductor of electricity. A major downside is that this method is highly sensitive to hydration status and water intake. Drinking water dilutes the electrolytes in the body making it less conductive as does increasing body fat. Hence, it is very inconsistent and unreliable.
Skinfold Calipers. A popular choice among better established fitness and clinical settings (most ordinary settings do not use this method because of lack of training and prefer to use the less accurate method like BIA which is regrettable) and considered as 'Silver Standard'. In this method, the technician (typically the fitness professional or clinician) uses a tool called a skinfold caliper to measure the thickness of subcutaneous fat in multiple places on the body (e.g. the abdominal area, the subscapular region, arms, and thighs). These measurements are then used to estimate total body fat. The accuracy is highly dependent on the skill of the person doing the measurement. A skillful one can often attain a result similar to the 'Gold Standard' methods. (Note: We provide FREE Skinfold Testing to anyone interested. Contact us to so.)
Tape measurement. Formulated and used by the US Navy, this is without doubt the one of the cheapest and easiest method of all. It produces a fair estimate of your fat level. You can do it yourself in under 1 min in your own privacy so no one can see how fat you are. All you need is a non-stretchable measuring tape and our online calculator (follow the instructions there).
At what bodyfat percent should you aim for?
The best range is 21-24% for women and 14-17% for men. At these ranges, you will look good, feel and are healthy, and the best part is that, it is easy to maintain.
Too much hassle still? There's yet another method.
The String method (featured in Dr Oz show).
Although this method doesn't give you any numbers, it is perhaps the best way to estimate the amount of fat one has and if that level is healthy. Simply measuring height with string, folding it in half and wrap it around your waist, then look up the table. That's it!.
Regardless of where you stand now, it is always good to embark on a healthy journey. You and your family will be thankful for it. Read this series of articles on weight loss for more knowledge.