When it comes to your health, your weight can be one of the first issues to be discussed. But which measurement will provide you with the best understanding of your health in relation to your body fat? Is it the number on the scales that fluctuates throughout the day because it is dependent on numerous factors? Or is there a better measurement?
The scales, although the easiest way to produce a number on your weight, can often be misleading about how healthy or unhealthy your body is. As a personal trainer, I only ever get my clients onto the scales to help calculate their Body Mass Index (BMI). BMI is an estimation of body fat that can be calculated using an individual's height and weight. To calculate BMI, divide your weight (in kgs) by your height (in m) squared.
For the general population, a BMI between 18.5 and 24.9 is considered a normal or acceptable weight range. A BMI under 18.5 is considered underweight, a BMI between 25.0 and 29.9 means the person is considered overweight and those with a BMI over 30.0 are considered obese.
It is recommended that individuals who have been categorized as overweight or obese and have two or more risk factors should lose weight. Even a small weight loss of 5-10% their current weight, will help lower an individual's risk of developing diseases associated with obesity, such as diabetes.
Risk factors include: high blood pressure (hypertension), high LDL cholesterol ("bad" cholesterol), low HLD ("good" cholesterol), high triglycerides (fat), high blood glucose (sugar), family history of premature heart disease, physical inactivity and cigarette smoking.
Having said this, BMI is not suitable for all people and age groups as it can present you with a misleading result. For example it is an inaccurate tool to use on children as they are still growing, and it can categorize older adults (65+) as underweight as they may have lost muscle.
BMI can also present athletic or muscular individuals as overweight or even obese. This is because BMI doesn't distinguish what percentage of weight is fat, and what is muscle. These individuals will have a much higher percentage of muscle in their body, and muscle weighs more than fat. You can see why just jumping on a scale and weighing yourself can be misleading. This is also the case for those trying to become leaner, as you may be increasing your lean muscle mass, which will discredit the weight lost in body fat. Body fat percentage is therefore a far better metric to use for the muscular individuals and those who wish to become leaner.
There are several ways to determine your body fat percentage, including but not limited to:
Hydrostatic weighing: which involves submerging a person in water to calculate the mass per unit volume of his or her body.
Bioelectrical impedance analysis (BIA): this is conducted using a BIA device that is sold as a scale or a handheld device. It sends a slight electrical current through the body to measure the impedance/opposition to the current to estimate total body water, lean mass and body fat percentage. This is often the easiest and most accessible method to use, however the result can fluctuate dramatically depending on how much water is in the body.
Skinfold calipers: this involves a handheld instrument, which measures the thickness of folds of skins in several locations on the body. These measurements are then inserted into an equation to calculate body fat. This measurement is very sensitive, and therefore needs to be used by someone who is proficient at using them.
As with any health measurements taken, in order to get the most accurate results, ensure that the tests are conducted under the same conditions every time. For example first thing in the morning before you've eaten or had anything to drink, or straight after lunch.
It is important that you understand the results provided by the measurements undertaken and the health risks that may be associated with the result. You should always speak to your doctor about whether you are at an increased risk and should lose weight, especially before undertaking a diet or weight loss/gain plan. They will be able to provide you with all the information you need to ensure you lose or gain weight safely, and how to maintain a proper diet and exercise routine over the long run.
Annemarie de Villiers is studying sports science and has a dream to be a sports scientist for a professional club. Born in South Africa, raised in New Zealand and tertiary professionally qualified in Melbourne Australia.
Annemarie de Villiers' previous articles may be viewed at www.pressserviceinternational.org/annemarie-de-villiers.html