If you’ve gained a few pounds during the pandemic, you might be concerned about whether you’re at a healthy weight. Two of the most common ways to measure this are body mass index (BMI) and body fat percentage.
Body mass index
“We often use BMI because it’s very straightforward,” says Christopher Holloway, MD, a primary care provider with Kettering Health Network. “It can be easily calculated in a gym or doctor’s office.”
BMI is a simple calculation: your weight (in kilograms) divided by your height (in meters) squared:
weight (kg) ÷ height (m)2
If you’d rather not do the math yourself, there are apps and online calculators available. The resulting number determines whether your weight is within or outside of the normal range. Adult BMI ranges are
Body fat percentage
In contrast, body fat percentage measures your body’s composition. “It breaks your total body weight into categories,” Dr. Holloway explains. “How much of your weight is lean body mass: bones, tissue, organs, muscle? And how much is fat?”
There are several ways to determine this. Methods such as imaging tests, hydrostatic measurement (water displacement in a tub), and body measurement calipers can be costly and/or require help from a professional with special equipment or facilities.
Dr. Holloway recommends bioelectrical impedance analysis (BIA), an affordable technology that uses electrical currents to measure the amount of water density in various body parts.
“It’s probably the best balance of convenience and expense,” Dr. Holloway says. “BIA has been incorporated into many ‘smart scales’ that can be purchased fairly inexpensively and used at home. You measure your body composition by standing on special metal plates embedded in the scale. For $25 to $50, smart scales are a good option.”
While a smart scale’s body fat measurement might not be as accurate as some other methods, “those other methods are less convenient and more expensive,” Dr. Holloway says. “It’s perfect for a regular, everyday person. If you use the scale consistently, it’s useful as a data point.”
Once you know your numbers, the appropriate range for you will depend on your sex, age, and other factors. The American Council on Exercise offers the following body fat percentage guidelines:
Dr. Holloway recommends discussing your BMI and body fat percentage with your primary care provider, who can help you start tracking your numbers and interpreting the results. “The value is in trending these things over time,” he says.
Take the next step
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