Measuring Body Fat

In a previous blog post, I mentioned that body weight is made up of a lot more than fat, and that when a person is engaged in a weight loss effort, that person should measure fat loss in addition to weight loss in order to get a clearer picture of what their body is doing.  Health expert extraordinaire, Katie, asked this question: “how do you propose for someone to keep track of body fat percentage on a weekly basis?”

There are several methods available for measuring body fat percentage.  Each has benefits and negatives.  Let’s look at a few.

Hydrostatic weighing. This is considered the gold standard of body composition measurement. You’ll get an accurate measurement via this method. That’s the major plus. But, if you want to be hydrostatically weighed, you first have to find a place that has the equipment AND that will allow you to use it. I’ve found this combination to be elusive.  Also, if you chose this method, be sure to pack your thin nylon swimsuit because you’ll be in a tub or pool of water, and you need to wear as little as possible so that your clothing influences the measurement as little as possible.  For these reasons, I consider this method inconvenient.

The Bod Pod.  Like hydrostatic weighing, this method is accurate.  Also like hydrostatic weighing, it can be tough to find one of these devices, although I think they are more readily available than hydrostatic weighing facilities.  I used a Bod Pod on the campus of Georgia Tech a few years ago.  I was charged on a per use basis.  I don’t remember the exact cost, but it was in the $35 to $50 range, per use.  Even though I had to strip down to a tight fitting swimsuit (which was a little embarrassing), the device was otherwise a pleasure to use.  The cost however, makes it impractical to use on a frequent basis.

Bioelectrical impedance analysis (BIA).  This is the method used by the scales you step on barefoot that give you a body fat measurement, or the hand-held thingies that you grip with both hands. This method is convenient. The devices themselves are not very expensive (as cheap as about $30), and it requires very little effort on the user’s part.  The problem with this method is its accuracy.  Your hydration level, your surface skin temperature, and whether or not you are very lean or obese all affect the accuracy of devices that use BIA to predict body composition.  I have found this method to be wildly inaccurate.

Skinfold Fat Measurement.  This is the method used when you have your fat estimated using a skin caliper.  I compared the measurements I got using a skin caliper to those I got using the Bod Pod, and found this method to be fairly accurate (within 2% or so).  The Accu-Measure skin caliper is the one I used, and I’ve now used it regularly for years.  It is inexpensive, easy to use, and convenient.  The limitations I’ve found with these calipers is that they max out at roughly 25 – 30% body fat for men, and 35 – 40% for women, so they wouldn’t be appropriate for those that have very high body fat levels.  Also, after having used the caliper for a few years, the lever arm that audibly clicks to let you know that the measurement is complete stops making the clicking sound, which makes it a little tougher to know when to stop pinching your skin fold.  Overall, however, this instrument is very good.  I use it on a weekly basis.

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22 Responses to “Measuring Body Fat”


  1. Martin says:

    SUPER COOL!!!!!!!!!!!

  2. Scott Payne says:

    Great information as always. Greetings from the Nations Capitol.
    Scott
    http://www.salesjunkie.net
    http://www.scottpayne.me

  3. Welcome back!
    Interesting post.
    How would I know measuring body fat was something I needed to worry about?

    http://www.martin-wright.com

  4. Martin says:

    What do you guys think about this blog? http://www.blogs.wsj.com/health

  5. Great information as always Darryl. I don’t think most people are aware that there are options for this sort of thing.

    Anthony
    http://www.anthonylemme.com

  6. Lynn Lane says:

    Darryl,

    This blog is looking better and better. I’m jealous!

    Also you have some great information on this post. Most people I talk to have no idea the option they have to measure body fat. Good stuff.

    Lynn Lane
    Success Strategies For Life

  7. John Ho says:

    Darryl,

    You new site looks great.

    Someone might have mentioned the following before?
    The font type makes the comments hard to read (under IE and Firefox) as the characters are too close together.

    John Ho
    Numerology Expert Helps Understanding Personality for Better Influence & Persuasion

  8. Kate McKeon says:

    Excellent post. Skin calipers make the most sense for most people. Those scales that use electrical pulses are horribly erractic. But the lazy man wants the easy choice so sales of those scales have doen very, very well.

    Kate

  9. Katie says:

    Excellent! Yes, hydrostatic weighing – much liking dunking the witches in Salem – is relatively tough to do. NOt only do you need to have the pool, but also you need the technician to measure the displacement. Not cheap!

    Skin caliper rules the day.

    For high school drill team we had to pass the skin caliper test. We needed to be under 18% body fat or it counted as a negative.

    Katie

  10. Darryl,

    Your site is looking fantastic. Your information has always been solid and now you have the professional look that does it justice.

    Steve Chambers, B2B Sale Trainer

  11. I’ve had the skin fold test before, but that’s the only one. I remember being in the lowest range for body fat. I’m telling you, when it all catches up to me some day, I’m not going to be happy.

    Lisa McLellan
    Child Care Expert,
    Babysitting Services, Babysitting Tips, Babysitters, Nannies

  12. I need to start measuring both from now on

    Jose Escalante
    http://www.joseescalante.com

  13. Hi Darryl,

    what do you think of the Tanita Body Fat scales?

    Happy Dating and Relationships,

    April Braswell

    http://www.aprilbraswell.com/BoomerDating.html

  14. This was a lot of good information on a topic important to people trying to lose weight.

  15. I have messed with a few of these devices. I do have a scale at home for body fat, and I agree it is inaccurate. It is nice to a professional in our corner to help us save time and money on products.

    Robert Martin
    http://www.carbuyinghq.com

  16. Vicki says:

    I like reading comparisions posts. It lets the reader decide for themself what route to take.

    Vicki http://www.bridal-threads.com

  17. Pam Schulz says:

    I’ve been relying on the the scale you step on barefoot that give you a body fat measurement. I didn’t realize there were so many factors that could affect its accuracy. Thanks for the insight.

    Wow – Your blog is looking great, Darryl! 😉

    Pam
    Expert Houston Retirement Planning & Wealth Management Services

  18. Lisa says:

    I’ve done the skinfold fat measurement but didn’t realize there were so many options. Good to know.

    MissMentor

  19. Keri Eagan says:

    Hi Darryl,

    I think its great that you have all the information we need in one site. I had heard the skin fold test was inaccurate but for my purposes I don’t think 2% is anything to worry about now I’ve read this.

    Keri Eagan
    Anything Alternative

  20. Rob Northrup says:

    Awesome looking blog Darryl!

    You are off to the races…

    Seize the Day,
    Rob
    Emergency Preparedness For the 21st Century Family

  21. Eric says:

    Great post! I love it when you are posting product reviews!


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