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Body Mass Index is Still a Useful Fat Guide
If you are an average person and you are concerned about your weight, assessing your Body Mass Index or calculating your waist measurement in relation to your height, is quite sufficient to determine how overweight and over-fat you are. BMI is a broad, general but fast measure of weight-related health risks. Even looking in the mirror or 'pinching an inch' of fat should suffice.
However, body-fat assessment is much more specific to your actual fat content and thus provides a more accurate and personal picture of your fat status. So if you wish to measure your body fat percentage and get a most accurate assessment of your weight/fat problem, here are some suggestions.
Measuring Body Fat Percentage with Skin-fold Callipers
Body fat can be measured using simple skin-fold callipers, although it's best to be measured by a trained person. Also, this fat-measurement method may not work as well on severely overweight or obese people.
To measure your fat using Skin-fold Callipers, take two sets of measurements of skin-fold thickness (the amount of fat just under the skin) at the upper-arm, upper-back, lower-back, stomach and upper thigh. The fat-measurements are then averaged and put into a formula to determine the total body fat percentage of your body.
Measuring Body Fat Percentage with Bioelectrical Impedance
Using a BIA Scale is one of the quickest methods we have today for determining body composition. This method is done by using a handheld scale, a standing scale or you can lie down and have electrodes attached to various body parts sending a signal through the body. BIA measures the impedance or resistance to the signal as it travels through the water that is found in the fat and muscle. The more muscle a person has, the more water their body is able to hold. The greater amount of water in a person's body, the easier it is for the current to pass through, the more fat present in a person's body, more resistance is blocking the signal. BIA is safe and it doesn't hurt, in fact you can't even feel it. It can be accurate with a 4% margin of error but the results can be affected by your intake of food, your body temperature and water intake.
Measuring Body Fat Percentage with DEXA (Dual Energy X-ray Absorptiometry)
The DEXA machine is a test that is used to measure bone density. However, it can also measure body fat percentage and can show you where it's located. DEXA uses a whole body scanner and two different low-dose x-rays to read bone mass and soft tissue mass. From start to finish, it takes about 10-20 minutes to do a body scan. It provides a high degree of precision with a 2-3 % margin of error. In fact, if the price wasn't so limiting for people, it would be considered the criterion method of body composition analysis. The machine is also very expensive and requires trained radiology personnel to operate which adds to its costliness. It is a painless procedure, so you should check with your doctor and see if this may be right for you and check to see if your insurance company will cover the cost which is upwards of $100 or more depending on several factors.
Measuring Body Fat Percentage by Hydrostatic Weighing
This is simply underwater weighing. This is another of the more accurate tests for determining your body composition. First they measure your dry weight, then, you are lowered into a water tank until you are completely submerged. At this point you blow out any further air that you can. Then your underwater weight is measured. The margin of error is around 2-3% but the accuracy really depends on the amount of air you can expel from your lungs. You must blow it all out or it won't be as accurate as it could be. This can be disturbing for some people if you are uncomfortable in water. There is quite a bit of equipment required for this type of body composition test and it's very expensive. You will often find this equipment at your local universities or research institutions - they can be hard to access. Some universities have been known to offer this test for around $25-$50 so call and find out if this is offered in your area.
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