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By Megan Johnson McCullough
Special to Village News 

Healthy Habits for Bonsall & Fallbrook Folks

Body fat tools: How to measure the bulge


Last updated 2/21/2020 at 2:55pm

As much as people don't want to hear about the fat-to-lean tissue ratio of their body, this measurement is a tool for their health. Body fat levels are indicative of high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and obesity.

There are different methods for measuring body fat, varying in accuracy, availability and expense. Ignorance is not bliss when it comes to health. When was the last time you had your body fat measured?

Bioelectrical impedance

Such a scary name for such a commonly used tool. With this hand-held device, the person enters in their basic statistics. Analyzers vary but most ask to input height, weight, age and if one would consider themselves "normal" or "athletic." This rating is open to interpretation based on whether the person perceives themselves an athlete or not, which is an accuracy consideration.

Then the person holds the sensory device while electrical impulses are sent through the body. This device measures how quickly those impulses return. Then the screen reads the results. The quicker the return, the less fat the person contains. It may not be the most accurate tool, but is affordable, convenient and found at most gyms.

Skin calipers

The pinchers. This commonly used method measures the thickness of the skin fold. Different sites on the body are pinched and from these numbers, a formula is used to determine fat content. These areas might include the arms, abdomen, back and thigh. The trick is to always measure in the exact location for best results and reassessment purposes.

For some, this tool can be slightly invasive. You do need someone to help reach your back and arm, so this method is not done in privacy. It is not costly or time consuming.

Hydrostatic weighing

Claimed to be the most accurate measure. The person's body weight is measured outside and inside water. This information is compared to the density of the water. You do have to get wet, and most of the time it is done is a lab type setting. Cost can be upward of $60.

Air-displacement plethysmography

Some call this the "bod-pod." The person sits in a machine which is like an egg in shape. This machine is filled with air. The measurement of how much air is displaced by the person who enters provides measurement for body density and composition. It is very similar to hydrostatic weighing without the water. It is normally done in a lab type setting, and the price can be at least $60.

DEXA – dual energy x-ray absorptiometry

X-rays are actually used to measure body fat. The person lies in the machine that scans the body with x-ray beams. The absorption of the beams is used to determine bone, fat, and lean body mass. This tool is highly regarded for its accuracy. Limb for limb, a person can learn about their body composition. It can be expensive but is valued for its detailed results.

Body fat, also known as adipose tissue or white adipose tissue due to its color, does not belong in excess under our skin. We are not meant to be storage units for fat. It does help us stay warm and is an energy source, but there is of course a healthy amount we should weigh in with.

Fat is stubborn, and modern society considers it unattractive. The trouble is that those trouble zones are hard to fix. If fat gives us energy and 1 pound of fat is 3,500 calories, if we were lucky enough to burn 100% of the fat, then it would take a 150-pound person 35 miles to walk off that 1 pound.

Be kind to your joints, body and health. Body fat does not define you, but it can define your health.

Megan Johnson McCullough holds a master's degree in physical education and health science, is a candidate for her doctorate, is a professional natural bodybuilder and is a National Academy of Sports Medicine master trainer.


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