Normal Body Fat Percentage: Body Positive Version

There is a lot of debate surrounding what a normal body fat percentage is and many people are more and more aware that this measure is much more important than BMI. This comes at a time when people are becoming more concerned with their health and wondering if they can believe the claims that it is related to their size.  It is also a time when the Body Positive movement is gaining traction.

 

According to medical and health statistics, people are becoming fatter, which is supposedly a disease onto itself, but is this true or is this just a way for the diet industry to make more money and avoid getting sued?


One-third of Americans are “overweight” while another third is “obese” by the definition of people who make money telling them that. This has led to people participating in programs that promise to make them less fat or leaner.

Popular methods include dieting, workouts, paleo diets, or using pills. Some go to the extreme by seeking surgery such as liposuction.

That’s all fine IMO, if you really just want to try to conform to some current beauty standard, although I am against plastic surgery and do think most of that is bad for you, but if you really are worried about measuring your health, than body fat percent is where it is at.

 

The Goal Of Calling Obesity a Disease

Calling “Obesity” a disease allows weight loss treatments to be paid for by medical insurance . It used to be that weight loss treatments were considered plastic surgery or beauty treatments. Calling Obesity a disease also lowers law suit risks for the diet and fitness industry, who have lots to gain if we all keep believing their lies.


 

What Is Body Fat Percentage?

There is always confusion between body fat percentage (BFP) and body mass index (BMI). To some, this is one and the same thing, while others believe the two terms are correlated.

The truth is that though BFP and BMI are aimed at finding the level or quantity of fat in the body, they are very rarely the same in a single person and BMI was only ever meant to measure groups of people.

Body fat percentage measures the ratio of the fat content in the body compared to the body mass. This is achieved by dividing mass of fat (or the total body weight minus the lean weight) by the body mass.

There are three types of fat found in the body: subcutaneous fat found beneath the skin, intramuscular type found within muscles, and visceral fat that forms around organs.

What is the Normal Body Fat Percentage?

body fat percentage chart
Tanita body fat chart based on BMI studies

 

Normal BFP refers to the accepted level of fat in the body relative to a person’s gender and age (see above chart).  Normal body fat percentage is between 21 and 36% in women and 8 and 25% in men.

Essential fat is fat that is needed to sustain life as well as reproductive systems. Women require a higher percentage so as to maintain their reproductive and hormonal functions.

Some charts show lower amounts for what men and women “should” weigh, no more than 29% for women and 25% for men, but these charts are based on studies of athletic ability and not health.  Sarcopenic obesity, is defined as as body fat greater than 27% in men and body fat greater than 38% in women.

What Affects The Normal Fat Percent?

There are a number of factors that affect the normal percentage of fat in the body. Apart from gender (male or female), the age and genetics of a person affect body fat. According to the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (2000), the older you get, the higher the percentage.

Men generally have higher testosterone then women which leads to a lower body fat of 11% – 14% on average for each age.  Testosterone and estrogen play a factor in body fat percent. Women with higher testosterone than average for a woman have lower body fat than average women and men with higher estrogen than the average man have higher body fat than the average man.

How Is The Fat Percentage Measured?

The desire to come up with an accurate way of measuring fat percentage in the body has led to several methods. Each approach comes with its unique advantages as well as disadvantages, and at times, it is more helpful to combine several techniques. The following are the most common:

  • Underwater Weighing: Also known as Hydrostatic weighing, this technique involves a person being submerged in water. The weight and mass of the displaced water determines the percentage.
  • Air displacement plethysmography (ADP): This technique entails placing a person in a special machine that measures the density of the whole body. It works similar to hydrostatic weighing but the only difference is it measures air and not water displacement.
  • Skinfold Method: Commonly referred to as pinch test, this technique uses a pair of body fat caliper to measure the thickness of the skin. The thicker the skin the more fat there is. This is an easy test that many gyms do but is not too accurate. Mine was off 10% relative to hydrostatic weighing, which is considered the best by many.
  • Near-infrared interactance: This technique focuses infra-red beams into areas such as the biceps. The light will be reflected back differently depending on the fat beneath the muscles.
  • Dual energy X-ray absorptiometry (DXA): formerly referred to as DEXA, DXA uses x-ray to scan the fat tissues. The more the fat the more the absorption of the x-rays. This is also a very accurate test but fairly expensive


Other methods include; Body average density measurement, Bioelectrical impedance tests, Anthropometric methods, Ultrasound, and body mass index (BMI). If you get a bioelectrical impedence scale, like a Tanita body fat monitor, you can calibrate it to a more accurate test like Underwater weighing. Mine was off 15% relative to the dunk tank but it was consistently off.

chart of correlation between bmi and body fat percentageCorrelation of BFP and BMI

As earlier stated, a lot of confusion exists between body fat percentage and body mass index. In fact, many use the terms interchangeably. Truth is BMI is not BFP . BFP is used to measure the fat levels in the body and is based on age, gender, height, and weight.BMI  is more of a general measure and the results are not very accurate for any individual (see plot of BMI vs BFP).

For example, a person may have more mass than average for their height not because he/she has a lot of fat deposits but because of more muscles or “lean weight”. This means that the individual may conclude that they are “overweight” when they are not. Another individual may have little muscle and light bones but has lots of intramuscular or visceral fat. Such an individual may be within the recommended BMI but isn’t as lean as they think they are.

 

Understanding body fat percentage is key to feeling good about yourself if you have a high BMI and big muscles. It still might not make you the fashionable body type, especially if you are a woman, but at least you can tell your doctor to shut up when he/she tells you to lose weight.

Check out fat percentage monitors at Amazon.com (but make sure you calibrate them at a hydrostatic weighing facility!  Mine was WAY off by 15%!)

References:

  1. http://images.amazon.com/images/G/01/electronics/detail-page/tanita-2-lg.gif
  2. http://www.webmd.com/diet/body-fat-measurement?page=2
  3. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Body_fat_percentage

 

This Sites Mission

This site, started in the fall of 2015, is dedicated to anti-sizism and making people feel good and healthy at every size. It is encouraging of fitness for people of all sizes and ages. It is against the stigma of large sizes, especially in women, as well as any discrimination against size.

Subjects of articles (will) include:

  • sizism
  • Body Positive movement
  • fat free mass index
  • fat percent
  • BMI
  • VO2 max and strength
  • exercise physiology

Here are a list of pages and posts on the site:


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