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  • 17 May 2024
  • Mr A. Siddiqui

Last updated on May 17, 2024

Understanding your body fat percentage is a valuable tool for assessing your overall health and fitness. It goes beyond simply knowing your total body weight and provides a clearer picture of your body composition. While a healthy body weight is important, it doesn’t tell the whole story. Someone who is very muscular might weigh more than someone who is less muscular but has a higher percentage of body fat. In this article, cosmetic surgery experts in Manchester explore various methods for calculating body fat percentages, their accuracy levels, and the factors to consider when interpreting the results. We’ll also look at weight loss options like mummy makeovers and liposuction.

Methods for Calculating Body Fat Percentage

There are several ways to estimate body fat percentage, ranging from simple at-home methods to more sophisticated techniques used by fitness professionals. Here’s a breakdown of the most common approaches:

  1. Body Mass Index (BMI):

    The Body Mass Index (BMI) is a widely used tool that takes your weight and height into account to generate a score that categorises you as underweight, normal weight, overweight, or obese. While BMI is a convenient starting point to estimate body fat, it doesn’t directly measure body fat. It can be misleading for people with a lot of muscle mass, as muscle is denser than fat and can elevate BMI even at healthy body fat levels.

  2. Skinfold Caliper Measurements:

    This method involves using a specialised tool called a skinfold caliper to measure the thickness of fat at specific sites on your body, such as your triceps, abdomen, and thighs. These measurements are then plugged into an equation to estimate your overall body fat percentage. While more accurate than BMI, skinfold calipers require proper technique and may not be as precise for people with lower body fat percentage or very high body fat percentage.

  3. Bioelectrical Impedance Analysis (BIA):

    BIA devices send a low-level electrical current through your body. Since muscle tissue conducts electricity more efficiently than fat, the device can estimate your body composition based on the resistance it encounters. BIA scales and handheld analyzers are readily available for home use. However, their accuracy can be affected by hydration levels, recent meals, and muscle mass.

  4. Hydrostatic Weighing (Bod Pod):

    This technique, also known as underwater weighing, is considered one of the most accurate methods for measuring body fat percentage. It involves being weighed underwater while submerged in a tank. By comparing your weight in air to your weight underwater, your body density can be calculated. Body density then translates to an estimate of body fat percentage. However, hydrostatic weighing is typically only available in specialised research facilities or high-end fitness centers due to the equipment involved.

  5. Dual-Energy X-ray Absorptiometry (DXA):

    Dual energy x-ray scans are often used in medical settings to assess bone mineral density. However, they can also provide a highly accurate measurement of body composition, including body fat percentage. DXA scans use dual-energy X-rays to differentiate between bone, muscle, and fat tissue. While very precise, DXA scans come with a higher cost and potential radiation exposure.

Choosing the Right Method for You to Measure Body Fat

The best method for calculating your body fat percentage depends on your needs and resources. Here’s a quick guide to choosing the right way for measuring body fat:

  • For a basic estimate

    BMI (despite its limitations) or a BIA scale.

  • For a more accurate at-home method

    Skinfold calipers (with proper technique).

  • For the most precise measurements

    Hydrostatic weighing or DXA scans (consult with a healthcare professional or fitness center).

Factors to Consider When Interpreting Results After Measuring Body Fat

  • Age and Sex

    Body fat percentage norms differ between men and women and tend to increase with age.

  • Body Type

    Muscular individuals will naturally have a higher body fat percentage compared to someone with less muscle mass, even at a healthy weight.

  • Hydration Levels

    Dehydration can lead to an overestimation of body fat with BIA methods.

By understanding the different methods for calculating body fat percentage, choosing the right approach for your needs, and interpreting the results with relevant factors in mind, you can gain valuable insight into your body composition and track your progress towards achieving your health and fitness goals. Remember, consistency and a holistic approach to diet and exercise are key to reaching a healthy and sustainable body fat percentage.

How to Measure Body Fat Percentage
At the Breast and Body Clinic UK, we offer a range of cosmetic surgery procedures, including liposuction and mummy makeovers for subcutaneous fat resistant to diet and exercise.

Liposuction and Body Fat Percentage

Liposuction is a surgical procedure that removes subcutaneous fat deposits from specific areas of the body. While it can be effective in sculpting and contouring the body, it’s important to understand that liposuction is not a weight loss solution or a shortcut to a healthy body fat percentage. Liposuction is typically used to address stubborn pockets of fat that are resistant to diet and exercise, and it’s not intended to remove large amounts of fat.

In the context of “mummy makeovers,” which combine multiple procedures to address body changes after pregnancy, liposuction might be used alongside procedures like tummy tucks or breast lifts. However, it’s crucial to remember that these surgeries are major undertakings and should only be considered after consulting with a qualified plastic surgeon and achieving a healthy weight through diet and exercise.


What is a healthy body fat percentage?

Healthy body fat percentages vary depending on age, sex, and fitness level. Here’s a general guideline to average body fat percentage:

  • Body fat percentages for men:

    • Essential body fat: 2-5%
    • Athletes: 6-13%
    • Acceptable: 14-17%
    • Overweight: 18-24%
    • Obese: Over 25%
  • Body fat percentages for women:

    • Essential body fat: 6-13%
    • Athletes: 14-20%
    • Acceptable: 21-24%
    • Overweight: 25-31%
    • Obese: Over 32%

Essential fat, a mere 2-5% of your body weight, plays a critical role in organ function, hormone production, and even keeping you warm. Without this essential fat, your health would suffer significantly.

How often should I calculate my body fat percentage?

Monitoring body fat percentage can be helpful for tracking progress towards weight or fitness goals. Depending on your goals, you might measure body fat monthly, quarterly, or even less frequently. It’s important to be consistent with the method you choose and consider factors like hydration and recent meals when comparing fat percentage results over time.

Can liposuction help me achieve a healthy body fat percentage?

Liposuction is not a weight loss solution or a way to directly target body fat percentage. It’s a surgical procedure that removes fat mass from specific areas of the body, often used to address stubborn pockets resistant to diet and exercise. While it can be effective in sculpting and contouring the body, liposuction shouldn’t be seen as a shortcut to achieving a healthy body fat percentage, and you should always consult with a qualified plastic surgeon if considering this procedure.

Can I lose body fat without losing weight?

Yes – in fact, this is very common and healthy! Building lean muscle mass while reducing body fat (especially visceral fat) is a common goal for many people. As muscle is denser than fat, you can lose fat and decrease your body fat percentage while your weight stays the same or even increases slightly. This is why focusing on body composition rather than a person’s body fat percentage provides a more complete picture than just weight alone.

What are some healthy ways to reduce body fat percentage?

A combination of a balanced diet and regular exercise is the most effective way to reduce body fat percentages and the health risks associated with high body fat. Here are some tips:

  • Focus on whole, unprocessed foods

    Emphasise fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean protein sources.

  • Control portion sizes

    Be mindful of how much you’re eating, even healthy foods.

  • Incorporate strength training

    Building muscle mass will boost your metabolism and help you burn more calories at rest.

  • Engage in regular cardio

    Aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity exercise per week.

Should I consult a healthcare professional before trying to change my body fat percentage?

If you have any underlying health conditions, are pregnant or breastfeeding, or are unsure about how to proceed safely, it’s always a good idea to consult with a doctor or registered dietitian before making significant changes to your diet or exercise routine. They can help you establish realistic goals and create a personalised plan that’s safe and effective for you.

Mr A. Siddiqui
About The Author

Mr A. Siddiqui

Mr Siddiqui is a Consultant Plastic and Cosmetic Surgeon, based at The Countess of Chester Hospital in the Department of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery. He trained extensively in plastic surgery before becoming a Consultant in the NHS and developing a private practice in Manchester and other areas of the Northwest. He is considered to be one of the top 10 cosmetic surgeons in Manchester.

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