What Does Percent Body Fat Mean?

When people ask what percent body fat means, they are usually trying to get information that will help them get into better shape. While many people start diets and exercise programs to “lose weight” there are some specific areas of weight loss that should probably be addressed to achieve success.

As athletes and knowledgeable fitness experts know, stepping onto a home scale will reveal whether we are losing weight generally. But this information doesn’t indicate what condition our body is in. There are a few factors to consider in knowing what makes up our total body weight and one of the most crucial is body fat.

Suppose we consider total body weight and the body mass that brings height into the picture. These factors can be helpful in addressing such issues as obesity since we should control total weight and try to keep our body mass in a certain range. But going a bit deeper into the procedure, some people get specific measurements of body fat. The amount of body fat is measured in percentages, for most purposes. It is a comparison of the amount of fat to the rest of the body’s tissue such as muscle, bone, water, internal organs etc.

Suppose total body weight is 200 pounds and one of several methods is used to measure the amount of this weight that is fat. If the fat content of the body is measured at 30 pounds, that means the percent body fat is 15 percent (of the total weight).

A simple way to measure this is to use the “pinch” method. Fitness centers, workout gymnasiums and professional diet counselors may use a tool called “calipers.” With this method, the amount of fat under the skin can be measured in a general way. Some of the places that this measurement might be taken are the waistline and on the back of an arm. This is just an estimate, but it can show how much fat covers the area under the skin across the body.

Of course, this is not a very accurate way to measure total body fat, as it doesn’t give us real percentages or numbers to work with. We can use exercises and diets that will help reduce fat specifically and a caliper test at a later date should show less fat to be “pinched” under the skin.
There are more complex and accurate ways to measure percentage of body fat, many of which were first used in scientific laboratories and at university study centers. Some of the larger hospitals now offer body-fat measurement and analysis for a fee.

One common method of body-fat measurement has been the water-weighing process. This works because fat tends to float, while the leaner muscles, bone etc. will sink in water. There are a few technology-based methods that involve X-ray measurements and sending electrical signals through the body. Fat shows up on an X-ray in a way that is different from lean tissue. Electrical pulses pass through lean tissue in a way that is different from fat.

Accepted, healthy body fat percentages are 21 percent to 32 percent for women under 40 and 8 percent to 19 percent for men of the same age. This number increases slightly with age, with women of age 60 considered “healthy” with 24 percent to 35 percent body fat. Men should probably have 13 percent to 24 percent body fat at age 60 and above.

Written by Lucas Beaumont

Generalist. Wikipedia contributor. Elementary school teacher from Saskatchewan, Canada.

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