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Body Fat Percentage: How to Measure Body Fat Percent
Healthy Body Fat Percentage is a Key Indicator of Weight-Related Disease
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Healthy Amount of Body Fat (Adipose Tissue) & Ratio to Lean Muscle Tissue

Body Fat Percentage

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Body Fat Percentage - Definition

Body fat percentage is the amount of adipose (fat) tissue in your body as a percentage of total body weight. If your total body weight is 140 pounds and you have 28 pounds of fat, your body fat percentage is 20 percent.

Why Body Fat Percentage is Important

There are two reasons why the percentage of body fat or adipose tissue is important with regard to weight. First, the higher your percentage of fat above average levels, the higher your health risk for weight-related illness, like heart disease, high blood pressure, gallstones, type 2 diabetes, osteoarthritis, and certain cancers. Second, the more fat you have in your body (and thus the less lean body tissue or muscle you have) the less calories you need to maintain your weight.

Body Fat Percentage - American Journal of Clinical Nutrition

In September 2000, the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition published a study showing that body-fat percentage may be a better measure of your risk of weight-related diseases than BMI. Steven Heymsfield, MD, director of the Obesity Research Center at St. Luke's Roosevelt Hospital in New York, and his colleagues evaluated more than 1,600 people from diverse ethnic backgrounds. Researchers took body-fat measurements and studied how their body fat related to disease risk.

"Many studies have related BMI to disease risk," noted Heymsfield. "What we did was correlate body-fat percentage to BMI, allowing us to take the first big step toward linking body-fat percentage to disease risk. This new research reveals the value of assessing body fat more directly using the latest scientific technology to measure body-fat percentage," he added.

"If we think of BMI being a rough measure of body fatness, there are people - especially some highly trained athletes - who are overweight but not overfat," says Heymsfield. "Likewise, there are people who are of a normal weight according to BMI scales but who are overfat. BMI is a broad, general measure of risk. Body-fat assessment is much more specific to your actual fat content and thus provides a more accurate picture."

Body Fat Percentage in Average Women and Men

Men carry less body fat than women. Body fat percentage in an average healthy woman is about 17-27 percent. In a similar man, the average body fat percentage is 10-20 percent.

Body Fat Percentage in Fit People

The more lean tissue (muscle) a body has, the lower the body fat percentage. Athletes or very fit people typically have significantly lower body fat. For example, body fat percentages of about 20 percent for fit women, and 10 percent for fit men are quite usual. Male marathon runners have been found to have body fat percentage as low as 3.3 percent and female Olympic swimmers have been found to have body fat percentage as low as 14.5 percent.

Body Fat Percentage Generally Increases with Weight Gain

Although muscular athletes or weight-lifting enthusiasts may decrease their body fat percentage when they gain weight, (because their gain in weight is from adding extra muscle to their body), for most of us weight-gain equals fat-gain. Our body fat increases while our lean tissue or muscle remains fairly constant. So for most people, their body fat percentage increases with every pound of weight gained.

How to Measure Body Fat Percentage

Measuring body fat percentage isn't necessary for most people. Calculating Body Mass Index (BMI) or waist measurement is usually quite sufficient. However, if you wish to measure your body fat, a professional body fat monitor or a scales with a built in body fat calculator should do the trick. For guidelines about normal body fat percentages, see below.

Body Fat Percentage and Weight Loss Diet

In general, whenever you lose weight by dieting you lose body fat. And even though you also lose some lean tissue (muscle), you lose a lot more fat. So your body fat percentage will reduce.

Body Fat Percentage and Weight Cycling (Yo-Yo Dieting)

Weight cycling or yo-yo dieting is when we are constantly losing and regaining weight on a succession of dietary regimes. This does tend to increase our body fat percentage. Point is, when we lose weight we also lose some muscle, but when we regain the weight this muscle is not replaced. Result? We have increased our fat and decreased our muscle thus raising our body fat percentage. This means we need fewer calories for our normal routine, and weight gain becomes even easier. This is why it is so important to exercise when dieting, in order to prevent muscle loss.

Body Fat Percentage - Conclusion

Unless you are an athlete or fitness enthusiast and are worried by your higher than average BMI, you don't need to concern yourself with your body fat percentage. Simply check your BMI or waist measurement. These two calculations are quite sufficient to calculate your weight status and whether or not you are overweight. Indeed, a simple glance in the mirror should tell you if you are overweight and how much fat you need to lose. Knowing your exact body fat percentage may be information overload!

Healthy/ Normal Body Fat Percentage

A certain amount of fat is essential for energy reserves, bodily functions and body protection. Fat regulates body temperature, cushions and insulates organs and tissues and is the main form of the body's energy storage. At present there is no clear consensus on what is a healthy body fat percentage. Here are three tables illustrating differing guidelines for healthy or normal body fat percentages.


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