6 Different Ways of Measuring Body Fat

One of the key indicators to a person’s fitness level is the amount of body fat in the body. A healthy body equates to less overall body fat, but how is body fat measured and what are healthy levels?

The American College of Sports Medicine defines body fat composition as the measurement of fat to muscles and bones in the body. The current recommendation for body fat in men is less than woman due to the different anatomical structure of the body.

Measuring Body FatThe American Council on Exercise advises that the normal body fat percentage for women should be between 20 to 30%, while body fat in men should generally be between 18 to 25%.

It should be noted that these percentages will vary depending on age, size, or even ethnicity.

According to the standard body mass index guidelines, bodyweight over 30% is considered obese.

These body mass index guidelines are a valuable tool to assess healthy weight; however, there are other factors to consider.

For example, muscle weighs more than fat. Keep this in mind if you’re muscular and are using your overall weight as a guideline.

There are a variety of devices for measuring body fat that differ in price, practicality as well as accuracy. The following list will help you decide which method or tool will be best suited for you:

1. Hydrodensitometry Weighing

Hydrodensitometry weighing, also known as underwater weighing, is a method of determining body density by measuring body volume. This method is generally regarded as the most accurate way to determine bodyweight.

According to the Georgia State University Department of Kinesiology and Health, this method can be calculated to about a plus or minus 1.5% degree of error. This method utilizes a variety of equipment depending on the level of sophistication and expense of the testing facility.

During this test, participants are immersed in a tank full of water and are weighed before and after being submerged. The theory behind this method is that fat is lighter than water, so the more fat you have, the more your body will float in the water. This is an important part of the formula is applied to this type of body fat testing.

Many clinics offer this testing for a price of around 50 to 100 dollars depending on the equipment utilized as well as the actual testing procedure. This testing is considered to be very accurate; however, it requires expensive equipment, as well as a good amount of time to complete.

2. Skinfold Measurements

The skinfold method is the most commonly used way to measure body fat. The only piece of equipment required is a handheld skinfold caliper device that is designed to take measurements of your skins subcutaneous tissue.

This measurement is based on the fact that you store most of your body fat directly underneath your skin. During this test, your skin is pinched with the caliper in certain areas of the body. For example, in men the areas include the chest, abdomen and thigh; testing for women include areas such as the triceps, suprailiac area (side areas just above pelvic region) and thigh area.

This test is inexpensive and easy to do; however, the result is determined on how well the person administering the exam does. Therefore, there is some subjectivity involved in this testing procedure. According to Georgia State University, if this test is performed correctly it typically results in a plus or minus 3% margin of error.

3. Bioelectrical Impedance

This test involves standing barefoot on metal foot plates while low-voltage electricity currents are sent up your legs to measure your body fat levels.

The theory behind this exam relies on the fact that fat is a poor conductor of electricity. Excess fat in the body will impede the current more than lean tissue. This exam ultimately measures the resistance of the electric current in your body to calculate your body fat percentage. Testing takes less than 1 minute and is up to plus or minus 3% margin of error.

4. Waist to Hip Ratio

This simple test measures the circumference of your body shape to give you an estimate of your total fat percentage. People’s bodies are classified into different shapes, depending on their body structure.

During this test, measurements are taken at the narrowest and widest parts of your hips. To calculate your overall body fat percentage, simply divide your waist measurement by your hip measurement.

5. CT Scans

CT scans can also be used for measuring body fat. This method is known as the Dural Energy X-Ray Absortiometry. During this testing, two x-ray energies take measurements of body fat, bone mineral and muscle.

This test takes approximately 12 miutes. and is accurate up to plus or minus a 1.3% margin of error. The CT scan test is very accurate, but can be quite expensive. Some testing centers charge up to $300 for this procedure.

6. Air Displacement Test

Instead of using water to measure body fat, the air displacement test relies on air to calculate body volume. The principle is the same as the underwater test and accurate at plus or minus a 3% margin of error.

The benefit of this body fat measurement test is you have to get wet, but unfortunately this test is hard to find because of the expensive equipment, and the fact that it’s a newer procedure.