Determining Body Fat Content: Reliable Options & Optimal Weight

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  • 0:01 Obsession with Weight…
  • 0:31 The Body Mass Index
  • 1:27 The Waist to Hip Ratio
  • 2:33 Skinfold Measurements
  • 3:23 More Advanced Testing
  • 4:57 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Artem Cheprasov

Artem has a doctor of veterinary medicine degree.

Many measurements and tests exist to determine your approximate body fat percentage and whether or not your body composition is of healthy proportions. Some of the well-known techniques are going to be the topic of discussion in this lesson.

Obsession with Weight Measurement

Gyms, homes and doctors' offices usually have a scale. Americans have become obsessed with measuring their own weight. Actually, we don't just obsess about measuring weight in general, but also the amount of body fat we have. Inasmuch, doctors, scientists, and companies have developed numerous ways that a person's body composition can be assessed. Luckily so, as being overweight and obese is a very bad thing, and, thus, keeping an eye out for your body fat percentage and body composition is an important thing.

The Body Mass Index

One leading option that assesses a person's body weight is known as the body mass index, or BMI. BMI is a measurement that is calculated from a person's height and weight in order to come up with a fairly reliable estimate of body fatness. It is by no means a perfect indicator. For example, athletes with a lot of lean muscle mass and little fat will have an increased BMI akin to an overweight person who truly has a lot of body fat.

To determine your BMI you can divide your weight in kilograms by the square of your height in meters. Individuals with a BMI of under 18.5 are considered underweight, 18.5-24.9 are seen as having a normal weight, those with a BMI of 25-29.9 are deemed overweight, and anyone with a BMI of 30 or more is obese.

The Waist to Hip Ratio

Another little measurement that helps you determine if you're of a healthy body composition is the waist to hip ratio (WHR). Here, you first measure the length around your waist near the navel. But don't cheat by pulling the stomach inwards! Next, measure around your hips, at the point where they and your buttocks are widest. Finally, divide the measurement you got around your waist with the measurement around your hips.

A man with a ratio of over 0.9 and a woman with a ratio of over 0.85 are considered to be suffering from abdominal obesity. Weight gain around the abdomen (called apple-shaped) has traditionally been linked to a higher likelihood of chronic diseases, such as diabetes and heart diseases, than weight gain around the hips (called pear-shaped). Importantly though, newer research is beginning to show that weight gain around the hips can be just as bad and just as risky for many chronic health concerns stemming from obesity.

Skinfold Measurements

While WHR and BMI are many times good approximations of body fat and obesity, there are some more accurate methods for determining body fat percentage in a person, such as through skinfold measurements, a test that uses calipers to determine the thickness of the fat under the skin's surface. Here, a trained individual will use a little instrument, called a caliper, to pinch and measure your skin at different spots, like by your navel and your love handles.

The measurements are then used with an equation to give an estimate of body fat percentage. But this test is prone to error if someone doesn't know where and how to accurately conduct it. Small mistakes can result in big variations in the outcome of body fat percentage.

More Advanced Testing

Techniques using all sorts of technology have been developed to try and decrease the risk of error. For instance, bioelectrical impedance analysis is a technique used to estimate body fat percentage using a small electrical current. In this test, electrodes send a very weak electrical signal through your body. This signal travels preferentially through fat-free tissue. A computer can use this to calculate your body fat percentage. Many home devices that measure your weight also have an option to measure your body fat percentage using this same technique.

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