Fitness Nutrition Forums

How Much Body Fat is Healthy?

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When you think about your body fat, you might picture yourself standing on the scale in your bathroom, peering down at the spinning dial, hoping for a lower number then the day before. While weighing yourself is ok, it doesn't give you a true picture of how much body fat you really have, and how much you might need to lose. Most people think the less body fat the better, but how much body fat is healthy?

The Problem

Most Americans have their fair share of fast food, sweets, and other "fat inducing" foods, and the statistics are spinning around our heads constantly. Obesity is on the rise and so are the health problems that come along with it. Complications that can arise include:

  • coronary artery disease
  • hypertension
  • diabetes
  • obstructive pulmonary disease
  • osteoarthritis
  • certain types of cancer

These diseases are serious in nature and sometimes lead to decreased life expectancy. Conversely, many problems can arise from not having enough body fat. Our nation is obsessed with weight, and many people are suffering from the effects of self-induced malnutrition. The body needs a certain amount of body fat to perform basic physiological functions. Phospholipids are needed for cell membrane formation, and the triglycerides found in adipose tissue provide insulation and store metabolic fuel. In addition, lipids are involved in the storage and transport of fat-soluble vitamins and in the functioning of the nervous and reproductive systems, the menstrual cycle, and growth and maturation during pubescence. Individuals suffering from eating disorders, excessive exercising and certain diseases can have severe physiological dysfunction as a result of too little body fat.


There are a number of tests than can be administered when assessing body fat. Skinfolds and bioelectrical impedence are the most common methods because of their ease and portability, although hydrostatic or underwater weighing is the golden standard. Whatever the test, the results give you an idea of the composition of your body, namely, body fat percentage. This number is used to compare to a standard in which an individual can gauge themselves.

The recommended levels for healthy adults are:


  • Young Adult: 8-22
  • Middle Aged: 10-25
  • Elderly: 10-23


  • Young Adult: 20-35
  • Middle Aged: 25-38
  • Elderly: 25-35

When a person falls over these limits, they are in the "overweight" category, and still further, the "obese" and "morbidly obese" categories. Being lower than these standards is considered malnutrition. The average body fat for adult men is 13% and 28% for women. This is considered healthy, and falling above or below increases risk for health problems.

The Solution

Once you know your percent body fat, it is your responsibility to get it or keep it where it should be. If you have some work to do, be committed and get your numbers where you need them to be. It is not only important for your own personal health, but you can be a good example to those around you.

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