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Reading Your Body Fat Scale Correctly - What's It Mean?

Oct 14, 2009

So you’ve got a body fat scale, but you’re not sure how to interpret it. Traditional scales measure your weight. Tracking weight loss is not the best method of watching your progress. For any weight loss program, it is not weight you are concerned with losing, it is body fat.

A body fat scale measures the percentage of fat in your body. Tracking your body fat percentage is a more accurate measurement of your health and fitness. However, it is important to understand what your body fat percentage means to help with your goals.

Body Fat Range

The general body fat range is anywhere between 6-25% for men and 14-31% for women. Men should never have less than 2% body fat, and women need at least 10% body fat to be healthy. More than 26% body fat for men or 32% body fat for women is considered obese.

How to Measure Body Fat

There are several ways to measure your body fat. Some are more accurate, some more expensive, and some more convenient. Here are the various methods of measuring body fat along with their advantages and disadvantages:

DEXA (Dual Energy X-Ray Absorptiometry)

This is a method of measuring body fat by scanning your body with x-rays to read both your bone mass and soft tissue mass. This method is considered one of the most accurate, with only a 2-3% margin of error. However, the procedure is the most time consuming, taking 10-20 minutes for a reading. You must also see a doctor for this method, which usually costs around $100. On the plus side, your insurance may cover it.

Hydrostatic Weighing

This method of measuring body fat involves dunking you into a pool of water where you exhale all of the air out of your lungs. Fat floats in water, so by taking a measurement of only the weight under the water, you get an accurate measurement of your body density.

This method is also very accurate with a 2-3% margin of error. However, the actually accuracy of this method depends on how well you are able to exhale the air from your lungs. In addition, being dunked under water with no air in your lungs can be scary, making this the least comfortable method of measuring body fat. However, it is more affordable than DEXA. You can get this done by many colleges and universities for $25-50.

Calipers

This method involves pinching areas of fat on your body and measuring them with devices known as calipers. These measurements are put into a formula that calculates your body fat percentage. This is the easiest method of measuring body fat because in theory all you need are calipers and someone to measure for you. However, the accuracy of this method can be affected by several factors, such as the skill of the person taking the measurements and your age.

Bioelectric Impedance

This is the method used by most body fat scales. Depending on whether you are using a handheld scale or one you stand on, an electrical signal is passed from hand to hand or foot to foot. Electricity travels faster through muscle than through fat, therefore the faster the signal passes through your body, the lower your body fat percentage.

The accuracy of these scales is less than the above options, however, and can be due to several factors, such as hydration. However, these scales can still be used to track your progress over time. To get the best results, make sure that you use this scale at the same time of day, before you eat, but after drinking a glass of water. This method does have the advantage over all the rest that it is the only one that you do by yourself.

Body Fat Scale Review

Not all body fat scales are equal. “Good Housekeeping” did a review of seven models and rated them in order of accuracy, durability and ease of use. Here are their results:

Accuracy

  1. Taylor 5553
  2. Terraillon TFA-20
  3. Terraillon TFA-10
  4. Terraillon TFX-30
  5. Sharper Image TN420
  6. Thinner MS-2500
  7. Tanita BF-625

Durability

  1. Tanita BF-625
  2. Terraillon TFA-10
  3. Taylor 5553
  4. Sharper Image TN420
  5. Terraillon TFX-30
  6. Thinner MS-2500
  7. Terraillon TFA-20

Ease of Use

  1. Tanita BF-625
  2. Sharper Image TN420
  3. Thinner MS-2500
  4. Taylor 5553
  5. Terraillon TFA-10
  6. Terraillon TFX-30
  7. Terraillon TFA-20

Body fat scales can be powerful tools to help with your health and fitness. Understanding what it all means is a step in the right direction to a leaner and healthier you.

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