Knowing Your ‘Body Fat Composition’

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June 11, 2015


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The human body is composed of lean tissues (muscle, bone and organs) that are metabolically active — and fat tissue that is not.

If you have too much fat — especially around your waist — you’re at higher risk for such health problems as high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol and diabetes. These factors increase your risk for heart disease and stroke.

Analyzing a person’s body fat composition is becoming an increasingly important tool for helping those who are overweight or obese to get started on a path toward losing weight and a healthier outlook.

Obesity is now recognized as a major, independent risk factor for heart disease. If you’re overweight or obese, you can reduce your risk for heart disease and other chronic health issues by losing weight and keeping it off.

Measuring Body Fat
There are indirect measurements that can contribute to a body fat analysis. But they don’t tell the whole story. They include waist circumference and body mass index (BMI), two ways to assess your body composition. A BMI evaluates weight and height, and body shape, which takes into account the circumference of the waist and hips.

But a much more precise and complete body fat composition analysis also includes a quick and painless scan that measures lean and fat tissue throughout the body. The special X-ray closely analyzes the fat around the internal organs, called visceral fat, and the fat under the skin that you can pinch, called subcutaneous fat. The open scan passes over your body in six to ten minutes, depending on your body size.  As it passes over you it is directly measuring how much muscle, body fat, and bone mass your body contains.

Most People are ‘Surprised by Their BMI’
In an effort to promote wellness and prevention, Baptist Health is offering this type of body fat composition analysis free throughout the month of June at any Baptist Medical Plaza (a doctor’s prescription is required). The visit includes measurements to determine your BMI, as well as the scan. The patient leaves with a BMI reading and body fat composition breakdown.

Most people have a higher BMI than they thought, said Michael Diaz, a Radiology Clinical Specialist at the Baptist Medical Plaza in Westchester.

“Patients are surprised by their BMI,” Diaz said. “They may not look overweight. However, their BMI comes back and says their overweight, and that’s unexpected.”

The majority of individuals getting their body fat composition scans are overweight or obese, and they have an order from the primary physician. The body fat readings offer doctors a good starting point for treatments, which will likely include lifestyle changes such as dieting and exercise.

However, measuring body fat composition also offers a way of monitoring the impact of medical treatments not directly related to obesity. For example, a doctor may need to determine how chemotherapy is affecting a cancer patient’s fat and muscle composition, or how another patient is responding to medications for thyroid issues.

“Measuring body fat composition accurately is a good tracking tool for many serious health conditions,” Mr. Diaz says.

Body Fat Percentages
Excess body fat – not simply excess weight – has an impact on an individual’s overall health. Healthy body fat levels can vary per individual, but generally about 15 percent body fat is considered middle-range healthy for men, while 25 percent is the mid-range for women. But these values will vary depending on your age and other factors. Some studies have indicated that configuring body-fat percentage may be a better measure of a person’s risk of weight-related diseases than BMI. But the best results utilize both, studies have also found.

BMIs are widely used to assess populations for overweight and obesity rates. Because the calculation requires only height and weight, it is inexpensive and easy to use for clinicians and for the general public, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. BMI can be used as a screening tool for body fatness but is not diagnostic.

According to the CDC, the following weight-status categories are associated with BMI ranges for adults:

  • Obese: a score of 30 or higher.
  • Overweight: BMI of 25-29.9.
  • Normal weight:  18.5 to 24.9.
  • Underweight: 18.4 and under.

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