Body fat calculator: 10 ways to measure body fat percentage

Weight Loss
Coach Arvind
January 10,2023

Whether you’re trying to lose weight, gain muscle, or simply improve your overall health, knowing your body fat percentage is an important metric to keep track of. Body fat percentage is a more accurate measure of health (and whether you need to lose weight) than weight alone, and it can help you set realistic goals for your health and fitness journey. You might have asked this question before, “How to calculate body fat percentage?” or tried to find a body fat calculator online.

There are a few different ways to measure body fat percentage, and each has its own advantages and disadvantages. You can measure your body fat percentage at home by purchasing various tools, or using a body fat percentage calculator. But not all of these will give accurate readings or have an easy-to-read display.

In this post, we’ll explore 10 of the most popular methods so you can choose the best one for your needs.

What is meant by body fat?

Body fat is the percentage of fat in your body. It includes both essential and storage fat.

  • Essential fat is mandatory for survival and is found in the brain, nerves, heart, lungs, and other organs. 
  • Storage fat is stored in adipose tissue and provides insulation and energy.

The main role of body fat is to insulate the body from cold and cushion vital organs, such as the kidneys, liver, heart, and lungs.

The most common areas where fat is stored are under your skin, called subcutaneous fat and between your internal organs, which is called visceral fat. For most people, excess weight is largely accumulated around the belly.

A body fat calculator determines the amount of fat percentage in your body. For example, a body fat of 20% means that fat makes up 20% of your total body mass.

Now let’s focus on the question of how to measure the body fat percentage and what body fat calculator you should use.

10 ways to measure body fat percentage 

Here are ten methods that show you how to calculate body fat percentage. Some methods can be done yourself at home, some need a little equipment while some can only be done in a lab setting. Let’s go through each option.

1. Skinfold Calipers

Skinfold calipers are low-tech devices used to measure the thickness of subcutaneous fat in the human body. These calipers have one jaw with a fixed position and the other slides along the fixed jaw. 

A spring applies pressure to the sliding jaw so that it moves toward or away from the fixed jaw, depending on how much pressure is applied. The skinfold measurement is used as an estimate of the total body fat percentage.

body fat calculator

Pinch the skin to separate the muscle from the fat in at least three different areas of your body (the chest, abs, and thighs are typical). Then, use the calipers to measure the fold.

Every time, test the same side. Two measurements should be averaged at each place. You then input those numbers into an online skinfold caliper body fat calculator to get your body fat percentage.

Tip: For the most accurate results, it is best to have someone else do the measurements for you.

Advantages:

  • Skinfold calipers are portable and easy to use.
  • Easy to interpret as body fat calculator is freely available online
  • They are also relatively inexpensive.
  • They can be used at home.

Disadvantages:

  • Skinfold calipers are not very accurate for some individuals (e.g., those with a high body fat percentage or large muscle mass).
  • It takes some practice to take accurate measurements.

2. Body circumference measurements

Body circumference measurements tell whether you are at a healthy weight, underweight, overweight or obese. These measurements include:

Waist Circumference 

It is a measurement of your waist. To do this, simply wrap the measuring tape around your waist at the largest point around the belly button, making sure that it’s level all the way around. 

This measurement can be used by itself or as part of other formulas like a waist-height ratio. Adults with a waist size more than 35 inches for women and 40 inches for men are considered at an elevated risk for lifestyle diseases. 

Hip Circumference 

It is a measurement of your waist. You could wrap a measuring tape around your hips at the widest point. Once you have your measurement, you can then look up conversion charts online to figure out your body fat percentage.

This measurement can be used by itself or as part of other formulas like a waist-hip ratio. Adults with hip sizes higher than 40 inches for women and 35 inches for males are considered at an elevated risk for lifestyle diseases.

Advantages:

  • Body circumferences are a quick and easy method of taking measurements.
  • The method is inexpensive and doesn’t require any special equipment.
  • Easy to interpret based on many body fat calculators available for free online.
  • It’s very useful in managing obesity and overweight conditions since it can monitor changes in body weight over time in an easy way.

Disadvantages:

  • Body circumferences aren’t as accurate as other methods of measuring body fat, such as skinfold thickness measurements or underwater weighing.
  • It does not consider body shape and fat distribution, which can be different for different people.

3. Hydrostatic weighing

Hydrostatic weighing involves submerging your body in water and measuring how much water you displace. The more body fat you have, the more water you displaced and the lighter you will be in water.

To calculate your body fat percentage using hydrostatic weighing, you need to know your body density. This can be calculated using an equation that takes into account your weight in air and your weight in water. Once you know your body density, you can use it to determine your body fat percentage using a conversion chart.

Advantages:

  • Hydrostatic weighing is an accurate body fat calculator because it uses water as the test medium, and no air pockets are involved.
  • Your results will be ready within minutes since the test medium is water, and no drying time is required after testing.

Disadvantages:

  • It requires specialized equipment, which is usually available only in medical universities or medical facilities.
  • It can be uncomfortable for many people as it requires you to be fully submerged in water.

Also Read: The Hidden Dangers Of Excessive Body Fat

4. Air displacement plethysmography (ADP)

The principle behind ADP is that the human body is composed of fat and lean tissue. The proportion of these two tissues can be determined by measuring the volume of air displaced by the body.

ADP measurements are made using a device called a BodPod. The BodPod looks like a small, clear capsule that you step into barefoot. Once inside, the BodPod will measure your weight, then determine your body composition based on the amount of air you displace.

The accuracy of ADP depends on how well you follow the instructions and how accurate the machine is. Generally, ADP is considered to be a very accurate method for measuring body fat percentage.

It is an ideal alternative to the hydrostatic weighing technique and is used for measuring body composition in research, fitness centers and health clubs, athletic settings, hospitals, clinics, and more.

Advantages:

  • Accurate body fat calculator.
  • Relatively quick and easy.

Disadvantages:

  • Difficult to find a facility.
  • Relatively expensive compared with other methods.

5. Body Mass Index (BMI)

BMI is used as an indicator of body fatness for adults and children. BMI does not measure the percentage of body fat a person has, but it is useful for determining whether someone is overweight or obese.

To calculate your BMI, simply divide your weight in kilograms by your height in meters squared. So it’s kg/m2 

If your weight is 60kg and are 1.5m tall (150cm), then your BMI would be 60/(1.5×1.5) = 26.6.

A high BMI can indicate that a person has too much body fat, which may cause various health problems.

What does your BMI mean?

There are established ranges for BMI to decide if your BMI is in a healthy range or whether it’s in the overweight or obese range.

For adults 20 years old and older, BMI is interpreted using standard weight status categories. These categories are the same for men and women of all body types and ages.

If your BMI is 25 or above, then it indicates that you are in the overweight range and should look to reduce your BMI within the healthy range. Similarly, if your BMI is 30 or above, then it indicates that you are in the obese range and should look to reduce your BMI towards the healthy range.

Advantages:

  • It is an easy body fat calculator.
  • It is easy to interpret the results: the higher the BMI, the greater the risk of serious health problems.

Disadvantages:

  • BMI only looks at weight, it does not differentiate between muscle mass and fat mass.. 
  • BMI does not account for different body types; for example, someone with a large frame might show a higher BMI despite having less fat than someone with a smaller frame.

6. BMI using the South Asian scale 

A long-limbed build and tallness characterize the South Asian body type. It is one of the most common body types in many countries with large South Asian populations, such as India. This body type is also seen in other parts where people descend from these regions.

The BMI calculator for South Asians uses the same formula as the standard BMI calculator. The only difference is that it includes a height-to-weight ratio chart specific to this population.

In the South Asian population, due to differences in body types and genetic factors, there are several limitations in using the generic BMI as a general indicator of weight status. It has been shown that people of South Asian descent are at higher risk of diseases like diabetes like Diabetes at lower BMIs. This is due to genetic factors. As a result, lower BMI levels need to be considered, as shown below.

bmi calculator

If your BMI is 23 or above, then it indicates that you are in the overweight range and should look to reduce your BMI within the healthy range. Similarly, if your BMI is 25 or above, then it indicates that you are in the obese range and should look to reduce your BMI towards the healthy range.

Advantages:

  • Easy body fat calculator and easy to interpret.
  • Considers genetic factors specific to South Asians & Indians

Disadvantages:

  • It doesn’t consider how much muscle someone has (which can make them seem heavier).
  • Does not consider any individual aspects like gender and age.

7. Waist-to-height ratio (WHR)

This is a way to measure belly fat.

There has been extensive research since the 1990s on the use of Waist-to-height ratio (WHR) as an indicator of health status (and to spot health risks early) and using WHR in addition to/instead of BMI and other measures.  

The research indicates that WHR appears to be a more predictive indicator of health risks by using a simple cut-off value of WHR of 0.5. A number of countries around the world are already using WHR to track the health status of their populations.

Instead of worrying about BMI, weight or some other number, WHR is a better indicator to check if you are in good health or at risk for diseases like diabetes. Here is the rule for WHR:

 

Your waist should be half your height (or less).

 

You can use a measuring tape or you can measure it easily using a piece of string. See the below video to find out how to do this.

Example:

If you are 5 ft 10 inches (70 inches) tall, then your waist should be half of that – so 35 inches or less. ‍If you’re at 35 inches or lower, that is great. If you’re not, that should be your goal.

In the Daily9 weight loss program, we measure the WHR on a weekly basis and track it with customized graphs. This helps users focus on this important measure and improve it to a healthy range.

Advantages:

  • It’s an easy body fat calculator and easy to interpret what it means.
  • It’s inexpensive and doesn’t require any special equipment other than a simple measuring tape.

Disadvantages:

  • It may not be accurate if you are prone to store fat elsewhere such as your hips or chest.
  • It can take a little practice to measure it accurately.

8. Waist-to-hip ratio

This ratio is obtained by dividing the waist measurement by the hip circumference using the same units of measurements for both. The hip is measured using a measuring tape at the point that gives the maximum diameter over the buttocks. So measure it at the widest point of your hips.

The ratio measures how much fat is stored on your waist, hips, and buttocks.

As we have seen with the WHR, not all excess weight is the same when it comes to your health risks. People who carry more of their weight around their midsection, may be at a higher risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes than people who carry more of their weight in their hips and thighs.

Here is the waist-to-hip ratio chart to understand what the ratio means.

body fat calculator

Advantages:

  • Like with the WHR, it’s an easy body fat calculator and easy to interpret what it means.
  • It’s inexpensive and doesn’t require any special equipment other than a simple measuring tape.

Disadvantages:

  • It may not be accurate if you are prone to store fat elsewhere.
  • It can take a little practice to measure it accurately.

9. Bioelectrical Impedance (BIA)

BIA is a method of assessing body composition by measuring the resistance to an electrical current passing through the body. The current is usually very small and passes through the body without you feeling anything.

You may have seen such machines in a gym or a health clinic. You will be asked to stand on a scale and hold a small handle for a few seconds.

The resistance to the current is known as impedance and is measured in ohms. The more fat tissue a person has, the greater their impedance (resistance to current) will be. Fat free mass, which includes muscle, bone and water, has a lower impedance than fat tissue.

How to interpret your body fat percentage?

The company Tanita manufactures BIA based body fat measurement machines and has published the below reference chart for Asians.

body fat calculator

Advantages:

  • It is easy to use.
  • It’s not expensive.

Disadvantages:

  • Can be an inaccurate body fat calculator as various factors can impact the accuracy of BIA, including hydration levels, exercise, time of day and food intake.

10. Dual Energy X-ray Absorptiometry (DEXA)

DEXA is a medical imaging technique that x-rays to measure body composition, including bone density, lean tissue mass, and fat mass. It is commonly prescribed by Doctors to check bone density if you are at risk for Osteopenia or Osteoporosis.

DEXA scans are painless and take about 15 minutes to complete. To get a DEXA scan, you will lie on a table while a scanning machine passes over your body. The machine will emit invisible rays, which will be absorbed differently by your bones, muscles, and fat tissue.

The computer will then calculate your bone density, lean tissue mass, and fat mass based on the amount of rays that are absorbed. 

The output will be fat mass as a percentage (e.e. 30%).

As DEXA also determines your bone mineral density (BMD), it can help identify people at risk for osteoporosis and other conditions affecting bones. Osteoporosis occurs when bones become brittle and are more likely to fracture. 

Advantages:

  • Accurate method to measure body composition and body fat.
  • Safe and have minimal radiation exposure.
  • Also measures bone mineral density (BMD) in addition to being a body fat calculator.

Disadvantages:

  • The cost of the test can be prohibitive for some people.
  • May not be suitable for people who fear going to a lab or hospital setting.

Which method of measuring body fat should you use?

There are a few different ways that you can measure your body circumference, and each method will give you slightly different results. The most important thing is to be consistent with whichever method you choose, so that you can accurately track your progress over time.

Of the options discussed in this article, the Dexa scan is the most accurate way to measure body fat. 

But you also need to consider convenience, cost and other factors. So use the method that is most accessible for you. It will serve as a good starting point to take stock of your current health and take action if you are not in a healthy weight range.

Conclusion

Whether you are a fitness enthusiast or just looking to maintain a healthy lifestyle, knowing your body fat percentage is a very helpful tool. It’s a measurement that can help indicate whether you are on target with your fitness goals or if they need a little tweaking.

Use the methods and the body fat percentage calculators discussed in this article to get started on your health and weight loss journey.

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