Calculating body fat
When you are trying to lose weight, your focus should not be on just weighing less on the scale. You should also aim to reduce a few inches of fat from your body. Lack of physical activities and dietary control cause the excess fat to accumulate in regions, such as the waist, hip, thigh, and in extreme cases, in the neck as well. Abdominal obesity makes you at risk for chronic illnesses, such as diabetes, heart diseases, and cancer. As a preventive measure, you should also make it a point to measure the circumference of your thigh, waist, and hip and take steps to reduce the excess fat around it.
Measuring how much fat you have will give you an idea of whether you are losing fat or muscle mass while you exercise. This can be found out by knowing your body fat percentage.
Following are the ways to identify your body fat percentage:
- Body fat analyzers (or body fat scale):
A body fat analyzer is a handheld device that is based on a technology known as bioelectrical impedance analysis (BIA). It works by sending a small, harmless electrical signal throughout the body. The speed at which the signal travels helps detect the amount of body fat. A slower traveling signal usually indicates a higher body fat percentage.
The device makes use of an equation to calculate your body fat percentage. You just have to enter your height, weight, age, and gender.
Body fat analyzers are available at the fitness centers and doctor’s office. You can also buy one from the market. The device provides an easier way to know your body fat percentage. However, they are not always accurate. The calculation may be affected by your water intake, your physical activity, and your food intake on that day.
If you are looking for more accurate ways of knowing your body fat percentage, ask your doctor about other options.
DXA is a specialized X-ray exam most commonly used to measure bone density. It also provides measurements about body composition (including muscle and bones) and fat content in specific parts of your body. It can also generate a “fat shadow” image that shows the distribution of fat in various parts of the body.
- Air displacement plethysmography:
With this technique, you are enclosed in a computerized, egg-shaped chamber (such as Bod Pod). It assesses mass and volume and provides an estimation of body density. A special equation is used to calculate your body fat percentage.
- Underwater weighing (hydrostatic weight):
This technique involves measuring your weight on dry land followed by measuring it in water. To measure your weight in water, you will be seated on a chair that is halfway into the water.
Some three dimensional or 3D-imaging tests can also measure your body fat. These include:
All the above tests work effectively to provide you your body fat percentage accurately. However, they are expensive. Discuss with your doctor about the most appropriate test for you. Also, check if your insurance covers the cost of any of them.
If you want cheaper and easier ways to measure your body fat at home, you have the traditional method of using a simple measuring tape. Measure the circumference of your waist, hip, and thigh.
- Skinfold caliper:
Another method to measure body fat is measuring the thickness of the skin folds with the help of a small instrument known as a skinfold caliper. This method involves taking measurements of skinfolds by yourself or with the help of a trained professional or fitness expert. For more accurate results, seek professional help. You can then calculate the body fat percentage from the skin measurements.
For men, the skinfold sites are:
For women, the skinfold sites are:
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Akindele MO, Phillips JS, Igumbor EU. The Relationship Between Body Fat Percentage and Body Mass Index in Overweight and Obese Individuals in an Urban African Setting. J Public Health Afr. August 17, 2016;7(1):515. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28299149/