As much as we don’t want to hear about the fat to lean tissue ratio of our body, body fat test tools are great markers of our 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 your health. When was the last time you had your body fat measured?

By Megan Johnson McCullough

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 is open to interpretation based on whether the person perceives themselves an athlete or not (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. This 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 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 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 upwards of $60.

Air-Displacement Plethysmography

Some call this the “bod-pod”. The person sits 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. This can be expensive but is valued for its detailed results.

Body fat, also known as adipose tissue or white adipose tissue (WAT) 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 one pound of fat is 3,500 calories, if we were lucky enough to burn 100% of the fat, then it would take a 150 pounds person 35 miles to walk off that one pound. Be kind to your joints, body, and health. Body fat does not define you but it can define your health.