Body fat levels vary based on many factors, including gender, age, and body type. Nevertheless, body fat can be an important indicator of health, as too much or too little is associated with many health problems. (1) (2) (3)
If you want to know your body fat percentage, you may be wondering how to measure your body fat at casa.
Although the most accurate measurements of body fat, such as dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry (DEXA) and air displacement plethysmography (ADP), are usually only used in medical and research settings, there are a few ways to measure body fat in the comfort of your own home. ( 4 )
This article discusses the 4 best ways to measure body fat at home.
1. Jaw measurement
A skinfold caliper offers an inexpensive way to measure body fat. They are relatively easy to use and are particularly useful for measuring body fat levels when other methods that require expensive equipment or specialized training are not available.
These hand-held instruments squeeze and measure the thickness of subcutaneous (subcutaneous) fat in several areas of the body, including the abdomen, triceps, and thighs.
In general, it is recommended to use the 7-site measurement method when using calipers, which involves measuring skin folds in 7 areas of the body. However, 8- and 3-digit measurements can also be used. (5) (6)
All 7 measurements are taken on the same side of the body and include:
- under the shoulder blade
- near the armpit
- above the thigh
Remember that you will need help with skinfold measurements.
Skinfold measurements are added after the measurements. The amount determines the percentage of body fat.
Although there are equations that can be used to determine body fat percentage, scientists believe that using the sum of skinfold locations in millimeters is more accurate than calculating the equation. (7)
Skinfold calipers are available in manual and electronic calipers, and the price depends on the type you choose. Most come with a measuring tape and body fat chart.
Studies show that skinfold measurements can be an accurate way to measure body fat, but require some skill and knowledge of anatomy. Additionally, accuracy can vary widely based on body fat levels, how the device is used, and other factors. (8) (9)
2. Body circumference measurements
Circumference measurement (CM) is another way to measure body fat at home.
This method uses a measuring tape to measure specific places on the body. These measurements are then entered into an equation to determine your body fat percentage.
CM is considered a reliable method for measuring body fat. Three circumference measurements are taken at each anatomical site.
Measurement sites differ by gender. ( 10 )
- The neck : measurement just below the vocal fold and rounded up
- Belt : measure at your natural waist line (or smallest waist circumference) and round down
- Hips : measured at the maximum convexity of the buttocks
- The neck : measurement just below the vocal fold and rounded up
- Belt : navel measurement and rounded down
Three measurements for each location are averaged. These averages are then entered into the equation along with the person’s height. ( 11 )
The equation for women is:
- % of body fat = 163.205 x log10 (waist + hips – neck) – 97.684 x in
The equation for men is:
- % body fat = 86.010 x log10 (abdomen – neck) – 70.041 x log10 (height) + 36.76
Although this method seems simple, it requires accurate and precise measurements.
It’s important to get the measurements right, being careful not to dent the leather or make it too loose.
In addition, this method requires some knowledge of anatomy; for example, if you want to know the location of your voicemail.
A 2019 study of 76 active-duty military members found no significant differences when comparing the accuracy of CM to DEXA, considered one of the most reliable measures of body fat.
However, the scientists found that the CM method was less accurate when measuring women with larger waists. This means that the accuracy of the CM method varies with body fat distribution.
Nevertheless, the CM method is one of the best ways to measure body fat at home, as it is inexpensive and can be performed by almost anyone.
3. Smart scales
Smart scales are popular with those looking for an easy way to regularly monitor their body composition at home.
Unlike tradicional scales that only measure body weight, smart ones combine weight measurement with something called a “foot-to-foot impedance meter” (FFI). ( 12 )
The FFI estimates body fat and muscle mass by sending an electrical current into the body and measuring the response. Muscle and fat respond differently to electrical currents, and the scale uses these differences to determine body fat.
Although this method is one of the easiest ways to assess body fat in the home medio ambiente, there are some drawbacks to using smart scales.
A 2021 study compared the accuracy of three smart scales in measuring body weight and composition in underweight, normal, and overweight versus one of the most accurate DEXA measurements.
The researchers found that although body weight was accurately measured with a scale, body fat varied to show lower values.
One of the problems with smart scales is that their accuracy depends on the body composition of the population used to train the smart scale during production. Additionally, accuracy can vary greatly between smart models.
While not the most accurate way to estimate body composition, they are an easy way to get a general idea of your body fat percentage at home.
4. Waist circumference
Measuring your waist circumference can give you an idea of your body fat levels and whether you have a lot of body fat stored around your midsection. ( 13 )
Large amounts of midsection fat can significantly increase your risk of developing a number of health conditions, including heart disease, diabetes, and more.
Knowing your waist size can help you determine if you have too much fat around your midsection.
Measuring your waist circumference is simple and unlike many other home body fat measurement methods, you don’t need help to measure your waist circumference.
All you need to do is measure around the midsection above the thighs, making sure to measure horizontally around the waist. Hold the centimeter firmly, but be careful not to squeeze the skin. ( 14 )
Exhale, then measure around your waist.
The larger your waist circumference, the more belly fat you’re likely to have. To reduce the risk of many health problems, health organizations recommend that the waist circumference be below a certain measurement.
Cutoff points for waist circumference are ≥ 102 cm for men and ≥ 88 cm for women. ( 15 )
The World Health Organization recommends that men maintain a waist circumference ≤ 94 cm and women ≤ 80 cm.
It is important to note that waist circumference cut-offs vary by ethnicity. For example, those of Asian descent have lower cutoff values for waist circumference than those of European descent. ( 16 )
Note that a waist measurement can be a good indicator of whether you have excess body fat in your midsection, but it cannot tell you your total body fat percentage.
There are certain methods you can use at home to get a general idea of your body fat levels, including skinfold calipers, body circumference measurements, smart scales, and waist measurements.
However, these methods are generally much less reliable than methods used in clinical settings, such as DEXA.
While knowing body fat percentage can be useful for some people, such as competitive athletes, it is usually not necessary to determine a person’s overall health and disease risk.
If you have questions about your body composition, including healthy levels of body fat for your age, gender, and ethnicity, talk to a trusted health professional for advice.