Body Fat Measurement

What is body fat?

Your body weight is made up of lean weight and body fat. Lean weight includes the muscles, bones, tendons, ligaments, and water in the body. Body fat is stored in the fat cells and organs of the body.

How much body fat should I have?

For good health, it’s important not to have too much body fat. People with too much body fat, especially around the waist, have a higher risk of heart disease and other health problems. Exercise and healthy eating can help lower the fat content of the body.

Too little body fat is also a health risk. When body fat is too low, you may not be getting all of the nutrients you need. This can increase your risk for illness, fractures, and other injuries. Women with too little body fat may stop having periods and may have trouble getting pregnant.

The amount of your total body weight that should be fat depends on your age, gender, and athletic activities.

  • Young adults usually have a lower body fat percentage than older adults.
  • Women have a higher percentage of body fat than men because of breast tissue and a larger layer of fat under the skin.
  • Athletes tend to have lower percentages of body fat than the average man or woman because they have more lean body weight, or muscle mass. Athletes also burn more fat calories for energy and store less fat in their fat cells.

Ask your healthcare provider what percentage of body fat is healthy for you.

How is body fat measured?

There are several ways to measure body fat. The most accurate methods are:

  • Getting a DEXA scan. A DEXA scan uses X-rays to measure body fat. DEXA measurements can be higher than some other measurements because they include fat that is inside your belly.
  • Being weighed underwater.

These methods are expensive and may not be possible to use regularly to check body fat.

Other methods are:

  • A skinfold measurement, which is done with a measuring device called a caliper. Calipers are used to pinch your skin in certain parts of your body, such as your waist. They can measure how much fat you have under your skin. Skinfold measurements must be done by an experienced person to be accurate. Certified fitness instructors at gyms or health clubs can do these measurements.
  • Measurements of your arms, legs, hips, waist, or neck. These measurements are not as accurate as the skinfold test. Circumference measurements can be misleading. For example, if you do not exercise for several months, the fat in your leg may increase and the lean muscle may decrease but the size of your leg may stay the same.
  • Bioelectric impedance, which measures body fat using a small electrical current. Results from this test are not always accurate because the measurements can change if the water content in your body changes.

Ask your healthcare provider, local recreation center, health club, or gym for more information about getting your body fat measured.

Developed by RelayHealth.
Adult Advisor 2015.1 published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2012-09-26
Last reviewed: 2014-01-23
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
Copyright ©1986-2015 McKesson Corporation and/or one of its subsidiaries. All rights reserved.

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