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Body Fat Testing

Test Overview

Body fat testing checks how much body fat you have. It may be done to find out if you have too much or too little body fat.

The test is one of the ways to measure healthy weight.

People who are trying to become more fit and lose weight sometimes use the test to check for changes in their body fat levels.

How It Is Done

There are several ways to estimate body fat. The easiest and most popular ways to test are not as accurate as more expensive methods.

The least expensive and most popular tests include:

  • Skinfold thickness. A tool called a caliper is used to measure the thickness of fat at one or more places on your body. It is most accurate when a well-trained person measures fat thickness from several sites.
  • Bioelectrical impedance. A small electrical current is passed through your body to measure your body's electrical resistance. This resistance is used along with your height and weight to calculate your body fat. Results can vary based on how much water is in your body and where the electrodes are placed. You can buy some devices, including body fat scales, that calculate your percentage of body fat using this method.

More accurate tests are available, but they can be harder to find and can cost a lot. They include:

  • Underwater weighing. This is also called hydrodensitometry. It is based on the principle that fat tissue is less dense than muscle and bone.
  • DXA. This is also called dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry. DXA is a type of X-ray that can tell how much fat tissue you have and where it is.
  • Air displacement plethysmography. This is similar to underwater weighing, but it uses air instead of water.

Results

Experts have different opinions. But generally, healthy body fat is considered to be:

  • 10% to 22% in adult men.
  • 20% to 32% in adult women.

Your age, sex, and activity level will also affect your percentage of body fat. For example, endurance runners have less body fat than swimmers.

But body fat percentage is not the best way to measure your risk for weight-related diseases.

Your doctor may also suggest checking your BMI (body mass index), your waist size, and your waist-to-hip ratio. Your waist-to-hip ratio is a comparison of your waist size to your hip size. A higher BMI, waist size, and waist-to-hip ratio means that you are at higher risk for weight-related disease.

Credits

Current as of: August 25, 2022

Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review:
Anne C. Poinier MD - Internal Medicine
Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine
Martin J. Gabica MD - Family Medicine
Rhonda O'Brien MS, RD, CDE - Certified Diabetes Educator

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