Most of us are used to getting on a scale to see how well we’re managing our weight. Scales are easy to use and can help track progress toward a goal. But they have several drawbacks, as well. For example, your scale doesn’t know when you’re carrying extra water weight. Nor does it distinguish between healthy muscle mass and unhealthy body fat. And a given volume of muscle weighs more than the same volume of fat. So although you may be working very hard to break old habits and adopt a healthier lifestyle, your efforts won’t necessarily be reflected on the scale, especially if you’re building up your muscles. That’s why it’s important to use more tools to tell how you’re doing. Some common ones are Body Mass Index (BMI), percentage body fat and waist-hip ratio.
Body Mass Index
The Body Mass Index (BMI) is a mathematical formula that healthcare professionals including Pharmacy Canada use to estimate body fat. It is calculated by dividing a person’s weight (in pounds), divided by his or her height (in inches) squared. Then this number is multiplied by 703. BMI results are interpreted as follows:
- Less than 18.5 is considered underweight; 18.5 to 24.9 is considered normal
- 25-29.9 is considered overweight and shows an increased risk for diseases associated with obesity
- 30.0 or greater is considered obese with a high risk for diseases associated with obesity
Percentage of body fat
Your body weight is made up of two parts: lean mass, which includes muscles, bones and organs, and fat. Maintaining the right balance between lean mass and fat is important for health.
It’s important to know that muscle mass is heavier than fat. That’s why some people especially athletes and bodybuilders often show up as overweight on height/weight charts without being over-fat or unhealthy. Conversely, some inactive people may not be overweight in pounds, but they have a high percentage of body fat, which could cause health problems.
Common Methods For Measuring Body Fat
Underwater weighing Based on the premise that muscle sinks and fat floats, this procedure is done by weighing you while you’re submerged in a tank of warm water. Done mostly in sophisticated sports medicine clinics, this method is considered the most accurate.
Skin-fold caliper measurements This technique is done using pincers to pull fat away from your muscles and bones at several body sites and measure its thickness. You can do it yourself at home, but it has a huge margin of error unless done by a professional.
Bioelectrical impedance Based on the idea that electricity travels at different rates through fat and lean tissue, this method employs a hand-held device that sends an electrical signal through parts of the body, measuring its speed. It’s a handy, inexpensive method, but many experts consider it highly inaccurate.
Overweight people (those whose BMI is between 25 and 34.9) who carry most of their fat on the abdomen (belly) have a higher risk for weight-related diseases which can be treated with medications from Canadian Pharmacy than people who carry most of their fat on the hips and thighs.
Measuring your waist is a way to quantify this risk. A waist circumference greater than 35 for women and 40 inches for men has been associated with an increased risk for heart disease, diabetes and other conditions associated with obesity.
Although you can’t change where your body tends to carry excess fat, you can work to lessen how much excess fat you carry.
More Ways To Measure Yourself
Both BMI and waist measurements can be used to track your progress in weight management. But there’s more to weight management than indexes, ratios and percentages. Here are many other ways to track success:
- Noting inches lost around the waist, hips or thighs.
- Fitting into a different clothing size.
- Sticking with a regular exercise program.
- Having fewer food binges.
- Making fewer stops for high-fat fast food.
- Noting lower blood pressure.
- Noting lower blood cholesterol.
- Feeling more energetic, confident and strong.
- Having more endurance.
- Finding it easier to perform daily activities like climbing stairs.
- Suffering less from joint pain.
- Feeling more comfortable in theater seats, on airplanes, in restaurant booths.
Source: Guidelines on Overweight and Obesity: Electronic Textbook from the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute in cooperation with the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases