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Body Fat Measurement- Body Mass Index (BMI) or Body Composition

If you and your doctor are evaluating your overall health, chances are that one of the numbers you are looking at is your Body Mass Index (BMI). Your BMI is the ratio between your height and weight. Body mass index (BMI) is a measure of body fat based on height and weight that applies to adult men and women. But at best, that body fat “calculation” is more of a S.W.A.G (silly wild … artistic guess).

BMI Categories:

  • Underweight = <18.5
  • Normal Weight = 18.5 – 24.9
  • Overweight = 25 – 29.9
  • Obese = > 29.9

Although BMI is a quick and easy way to create some perspective about weight and identifying increased risk for degenerative conditions, it definitely has its limitations.

  • It may overestimate body fat in athletes and others who have a muscular build.
  • It may underestimate body fat in older persons and others who have lost muscle.

The short story is that BMI does not take weight composition into consideration.

Body Fat Measurement- Body Mass Index (BMI) or Body Composition


Body composition (or Body Fat Percentage) tests provide a way of measuring current ratios of lean tissue (muscles, bones, organs, water, etc) to fat tissue components and for determining changes over time. There are many different ways of measuring the amount of body fat or body composition, which vary in accuracy, ease of measurement, costs and equipment requirements. Some of the more popular tests for analyzing Body Fat Percentage include:

  • Skinfold measurements
  • Hydrostatic weighing
  • Girth measurements
  • Bioelectric Impedence
  • Whole-body Air-Displacement Plethysmography (BodPod)
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)

As you might expect, there are a lot of ‘opinions’ as to what constitutes the ideal percentage of body fat. The American Council on Exercise (ACE) is one of the most commonly used body fat charts. As you can see, women have a higher body fat percentage relative to men for a given level. Women have more fat because of physiological differences such as hormones, breasts, and sexual organs. In addition, women need a higher amount of body fat for ovulation.

“Essential fat” is the minimum amount of fat necessary for basic physical and physiological health. There is a lot of controversy over what amount of body fat is optimal for overall health. We all have different shapes, sizes, and fat distribution profiles, but I think the chart above is a good starting point.

The limitation of the ACE chart is that while it takes into account gender differences, it does NOT take into account your age, which is exactly why I included the next two charts. As we get older, there are physiological changes in our bodies that promote an increase in fat deposits.

This can be extremely useful information as you target a new health goal. It is also very useful in understanding your progress as you lose weight, gain muscle, or become more physically fit.

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